An excerpt from Howe’s new book on how internal arguments, drugs, failed feminism, and the exploitation of minority characters in comic books and the freelance writers and artists who drew them, changed Marvel Comics during the late ’60s and early ’70s:

‘I was just as crazy as everybody else post-Watergate, post-Vietnam,’ said Starlin, whose hobbies included motorcycles, chess, and lysergic acid diethylamide–25. ‘Each one of those stories was me taking that stuff that had gone before and trying to put my personal slant on it. Mar-Vell was a warrior who decided he was going to become a god, and that’s where his trip was.’ In the pages of Captain Marvel, existence itself might be altered several times in the course of an issue. ‘There is a moment of change, then reality becomes a thing of the past!’ howls the evil ruler Thanos, before everything morphs into funhouse-mirror images. His sworn enemy Drax responds: ‘My mind and my soul are one — my soul — an immortal intangible, nothing and everything! That which cannot die cannot be enslaved, for only with fear is servitude rendered!’ On the following page, Drax’s shifting realities are represented by thirty-five panels of warped faces, skulls, eyes, stars, and lizards. Captain Marvel had practically become a black-light poster with dialogue. Its sales kept increasing. Soon Starlin was opening his fan mail and finding complimentary joints sent by grateful, mind-blown readers.

“First Serial: Marvel Comics, The Untold Story.” — Sean Howe, Grantland

More by Grantland