What is the average life expectancy of a comic book? Don't look at me. I haven't figured it out. For every book like THOR which is now numbering 380 (although the first 125 issues were called JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY), you have a BLACK GOLIATH that only lasts 5 (and this in the days before Limited Series!) Recently, while compiling a list of all the Marvel titles containing stories set in the Marvel Universe (to be published in THE OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE #17-- oops, a plug), I discovered this interesting little fact. Of all the Marvel titles set in the Marvel Universe that premiered in the 1970s (1970 through 1979-- hey, I know the decade really begins in '71 and ends in '80. Want to make something of it?), only one title is being published today! And that title is...THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN. Gone is everything else, including such long-running presumably indefatigeable titles like MARVEL TEAM-UP (150 issues) DEFENDERS (153 issues), MASTER OF KUNG FU (125 issues), and POWER MAN/IRON FIST (125 issues). The SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN is our sole surviving legacy of an entire decade!
Going back to hte 60s, we have quite a few survivors, THOR, IRON MAN, CAPTAIN AMERICA, INCREDIBLE HULK, AVENGERS, FANTASTIC FOUR, X-MEN, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, and DAREDEVIL. Titles that premiered in the 60s that passed away suddenly in the night include SUB-MARINER, DR. STRANGE, CAPTAIN MARVEL, SGT. FURY, and AGENT OF SHIELD, some of them after respectable runs.
So what can we expect of the 80s, now that the decade is on its last legs (frightening thought, isn't it-- we're almost in the 90s!)? Which books that premiered in the 80s will still be published ten years from now, in 1997? I put my money on X-FACTOR and WEST COAST AVENGERS (you bet!) and put big ifs on a lot of the others (some of which I like a lot-- sorry, but that's the way it may be). I also think at least one or two of the Nine Surviving Sixties books may fall on hard times if we're not careful. No, I'm not a Doom and Gloom merchant. I'm just facing up to what history tells us abou a comic's life expectancy. If anyone wants to make some observations or speculations on the subject (what titles do you think Marvel will be publishing in 1997?) write me in care of Mark's Remarks.
Last December a comics legend died. His name was Gardner F. Fox. His work may not be well known to newer readers since he retired from the field about ten years ago, but the man was an incredibly prolific comic book writer, having authored untold hundreds of comic stories for various publishers, as well as being a nenowned fantasy and science-fiction novelist. For Marvel, he worked on RED WOLF, TOMB OF DRACULA, and MARVEL PREMIERE (featuring Doctor Strange). But the major body of his work was done elsewhere. Mr. Fox not only created the original versions of the Flash, Hawkman, and other DC heroes, he also wrote the exploits of the first team of super heroes in the history of comics, the Justice Society of America, back in the 1940s.
I wasn't around to read the Justice Society when it was being published (it was canceled two years before I was born), but I was a six year-old budding comics fan when the JSA's 1960s incarnations, the Justice League of America, premiered. At the time, Marvel as we know it did not yet exist. FANTASTIC FOUR #1 was still a year away from hitting the newsstands. If you were a fan of heroes in those days, you were a fan of DC's. Mr. Fox's JLA grabbed hold of my adolescent imagination like nothing else. It made eminent sense to me: just as a kid likes to hang out with other kids, if I were a super hero, I'd want to hang out with other super heroes. Only the Justice League offered this particular power-and-sense-of-belonging fantasy at that point in time. On the whole, Mr. Fox's tales were masterpieces of craft, holding my attention even before I could fully understand all of the intricacies of the plot. In my opinion, Mr. Fox invented all of the basic conventions of the super hero team concept, and all subsequent super hero team books, including the AVENGERS, owe a debt to Mr. Fox.
I was fortunate to have met Mr. Fox once. In November of 1976, over a year before I was hired by Marvel, three of my fellow comics fans and I trekked up to Mr. Fox's home in Yonkers for an afternoon visit. For three hours the bemused Mr. Fox entertained us four scraggly lads, realing us with his reminiscences and showing us the study in which he wrote. A kinder, more indulgent man would be hard to find. He did not so much as wince as I tried in my tongue-twisted fashion to express how much his work had meant to me. If I had any doubts left that I wanted to be a professional comic book writer, that visit with the Master dispelled them.
Gardner F. Fox is gone, but his work will continue to influence succeeding generations of comic book writers. Mr. Fox's position as one of the major figures in early comics literature is assured. For my part, I can still recite by heart the titles and plot summaries of Mr. Fox's 65 Justice League tales in numerical order. The work of Gardner F. Fox remains a cherished part of my memories.