Some people doubt Marvel’s success is even real. These people believe the MCU is nothing more than a giant, predictable plot to steal our money. They also wonder where the nurse is with their Jell-O.
What follows is a list of the best Marvel Comics storylines from the 70s. Some have been reimagined for the MCU. Others are coming. All are amazing comic book stories.
We do lists of 7 at Nerds on Earth, so hard decisions needed to be made. Just missing the cut were some really good genre stories that Marvel was cranking out in the 70s–stuff like Tomb of Dracula, Conan the Barbarian, Son of Satan, and some trippy Doctor Strange tales of mystery, just to name a few.
Master of Kung-Fu: “The Death-Day of the Golden Dagger!“
Even though many sadly missed the cut, let’s start with a genre story that did make our top 7. There was a martial arts craze in America during the 1970s, years before even the Karate Kid was a sensation.
Marvel capitalized on this with Master of Kung-Fu, starring Shang-Chi and his villainous father, Fu Manchu. You can get a broader intro here.
After juggling creators early on, writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy took the helm of Master of Kung-Fu beginning with issue #22. They were kickin’!
Perhaps no arc of Master of Kung-Fu was better than the gloriously named “Death-Day of the Golden Dagger!” Running issues #44-51, the storyline had Shang-Chi take on a criminal gang known as the Golden Daggers, an encounter that ultimately ended with him confronting Fu Manchu.
The storyline is collected in Master of Kung Fu Epic Collection: Fight Without Pity.
Avengers: “The Korvac Saga”
Teed up in Thor Annual #6, The Korvac Saga spanned Avengers #167-177 and was written by Jim Shooter, with art by George Perez.
A computer technician in the alternate universe Earth-691, Michael Korvac flees across time and space to the Earth-616. Upon arrival, Korvac discovers the space station of the entity Galactus. While attempting to insert a thumb drive into Galactus’ space station, Korvac receives the Power Cosmic and becomes god-like.
An IT guy should never have that much power, so it of course went to his head. He was challenged by the Guardians of the Galaxy, who join forces with the Avengers to stop him.
The Korvac Saga is excellent and has been collected several times, the most recent being 2012. Get it here.
The Avengers / Defenders War
We’re not done with the Avengers, because their 70s run had very few low points. I enter The Avengers / Defenders War as evidence.
Avengers / Defenders War is a meat and potatoes story with the entertainment dialed up. An early example of Marvel’s love affair with having their heroes fight one another, the Avengers fight the Defenders for possession of a powerful device.
The two teams eventually realize they are being played by Loki and Dormammu and work together to stop the Earth from being absorbed into the Dark Dimension.
It’s classic. And darned fun. Further, it also features the Defenders and Doctor Strange, who featured in other fantastic 70s comic book storylines.
Good news! It’s getting a brand new collected edition, which you can preorder and includes all the issues you”l need (Avengers #115-118 and Defenders #8-11). Get that here.
Iron Man: “Demon in a Bottle”
This iconic 70s Marvel Comics storyline ran in Iron Man #120-128. It has been recognized as a quintessential Iron Man storyline one of the best storylines of the 1970s, period.
Instead of Doctor Doom or some other Marvel character, alcoholism was the villain in “Demon in a Bottle.”
Tony Stark drinks to forget his problems. As his drinking intensifies, so do his problems. Tony finds that innocents are being put in danger as his control with his armor, a powerful weapon, slips.
It’s a gripping and heart-wrenching story, done incredibly well.
It’s collected here.
Avengers: “Kree–Skrull War”
Here we are with at the Avengers, one more time. The Kree-Skrull War is a storyline written by Roy Thomas, and drawn by the Buscemas and Neal Adams. The story spanned Avengers #89-97.
The Kree-Skrull War brought cosmic and interstellar warfare to the Avengers, but also had deep character moments, like the introduction of the romance between Scarlet Witch and the Vision.
The Kree-Skrull War also leaned heavily on metaphor and allegory. It was written during the Vietnam war (1971-1972), for starters. Plus, the Skrulls served as an interesting stand-in for Joseph McCarthy and his communist witch-hunt (“They could be hidden among us!”)
Nearly every comic book critic agrees that the Kree-Skrull War is an absolute highlight of its era. We’ve written about it more thoroughly here.
Amazing Spider-Man: “The Night Gwen Stacy Died”
The death of Gwen Stacy storyline occurred in Amazing Spider-Man #121–122 (1973) and has been a essential event in the life of Peter Parker, enduring for decades.
In a tight two-issue story, Gerry Conway and Gil Kane featured Spider-Man’s nemesis, the Green Goblin, who had kidnapped Spider-Man’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy.
Not much more should be said. If you haven’t read it for yourself, please do. It’s a pivotal event in the history of superhero comics.
It’s collected with additional issues that deal with more of Peter and Gwen’s relationship. Get it here.
X-Men: “Dark Phoenix Saga”
The Dark Phoenix Saga is the story that all other X-Men stories are held up to. Officially, it was published in 1980, but it was introduced in 1976 when Jean Grey first came into contact with the Phoenix Force in X-Men #101-108.
Then the Dark Side dropped in 1980 in X-Men #129-138.
It’s a masterpiece of a story by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. Jean Grey, as the Dark Phoenix, loses her mind and eats a sun, leading to a trial for genocide when an entire planet’s inhabitants perished. Jean managing to gain control of herself for one short moment she shares with Cyclops is remembered as one of the most touches sequences in comics.
I recommend the big omnibus, which included the 1970s comics that are so great in setting the table for the final story. Get it here.