RETRO HOT PICKS! On Sale This Week — in 1981!

Scott and Dan hit up the comics racks from 40 years ago!

This week for RETRO HOT PICKS, Scott Tipton and I are selecting comics that came out the week of Jan. 6, 1981.

Last time for RETRO HOT PICKS, it was the week of Dec. 30, 1977. Click here to check it out.

(Keep in mind that comics came out on multiple days back then — as has become the case now. So these are technically the comics that went on sale between Jan. 3 and Jan. 9.)

So let’s set the scene: Jimmy Carter was wrapping up his last days as president, with Ronald Reagan in the wings. The top box-office draw was the comedy 9 to 5, starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton and the character actor you loved to hate, Dabney Coleman. Dallas, as was so often the case, was No. 1 in the Nielsens. Atop the Billboard 100 was the bittersweet (Just Like) Starting Over, by John Lennon, who had been assassinated less than a month before. His album with Yoko Ono, Double Fantasy, was the best-selling album.

Such a great song.

Scott Tipton, contributor-at-large, 13th Dimension

Justice League of America #189, DC. This was the first time I ever saw Starro in a comic, and seeing all the JLAers walking around with those creepy starfishes on their faces absolutely freaked me out.

Flash Gordon #31, Whitman. I was (and remain) a huge fan of the 1980 Flash Gordon film, so if I had seen this on the racks back in the day I would have run to the cash register with it. “What do you MEAN, ‘Flash Gordon approaching’?”

The Flash #296, DC. This issue came in the middle of Carmine Infantino’s second lengthy run on the character, and his art was at its most outrageous and distinctive; I loved it. This particular issue had even a freakier vibe to it, with Flash looking for a brainwashed Ralph Dibny in a carnival sideshow.

Dan Greenfield, editor, 13th Dimension

Batman #334, DC. The penultimate chapter of the underrated four-part epic The Lazarus Affair by Marv Wolfman, Irv Novick and Frank McLaughlin (with Jim Aparo covers). I loved this in 1981 and I love it in 2021. As I’ve indicated before, part of what made this story so great was that it was only the third or fourth appearance of Ra’s al Ghul since he debuted a decade earlier. The key to the success of that character is to use him sparingly. He’s not a villain-of-the-month type and only the biggest stories should be saved for him.

The New Teen Titans #6, DC. This issue put the exclamation point on Raven’s first arc, with the Titans going toe to toe with Trigon. He’d be back, obviously, but the first issues of New Teen Titans really set him up as a Big, Big Bad and developed Raven as a character to watch.

Howard the Duck Magazine #9, Marvel. The end of an era. The final issue — which followed the monthly comic book — featured talents like Bill Mantlo, Gene Colan, Marie Severin and Steve Skeates, among others. Sadly, and in substantial part due to the spectacular failure of the 1986 movie (and perhaps also because of co-creator Steve Gerber’s battles with Marvel over the character), Howard never found a sustained audience again.

Best of DC #11, DC. Loved these digest collections of the previous year’s top stories. Ten stories for under a buck — what a great way to sample titles you may have been missing. And it wasn’t just the biggest stars. Check out the characters, titles and features that landed in this one, beyond Superman and Batman solo stories: Time Warp, The Unexpected, the Legion, Sgt. Rock, Jonah Hex, Tales of Gotham City and a Superman/Deadman team-up.


— RETRO HOT PICKS! On Sale The Week of Dec. 30 — in 1977! Click here.

— RETRO HOT PICKS! On Sale The Week of Dec. 23 — in 1984! Click here.

Primary sources: Mike’s Amazing World of Comics, the Grand Comics Database.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. John Lennon’s “(Just Like) Starting Over” remains one of the coolest songs ever.

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  2. I’m pretty such FLASH #296 was the beginning of Infantino’s second run on the character, not in the middle of it.

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  3. That Flash Gordon adaptation (with art by Al Williamson, no less) lasted 3 issues. They were sold in a 3 pack for 99 cents. How do I know? I bought them at my local Winn-Dixie supermarket back in the day. There also exists a baxter-paper trade paperback, which has somehow eluded my grasp. Curses!

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  4. Another nail in Howard the Duck’s coffin was the lawsuit (or at least threat of a lawsuit) filed by Disney, citing Howard’s similarities to Donald Duck. This issue was probably after the legalities were settled, since Howard is wearing pants. That was one of the requirements.

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  5. Tonebone- there is a hardback of the Flash Gordon adaptation also. I picked up a copy on eBay for $20. The entire story is also printed in B/W in the big Flesk Williamson Flash Gordon book.

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  6. Loved the JLA cover by Bolland–DC should really put out the complete Bolland covers in a series of oversize hardcovers.

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    • DC put out a hardcover collection of Bolland covers back in 2011. I have it and it’s a beautiful collection. I just checked its availability on Amazon and as is usually the case anymore, the after-market prices being asked for it are astronomical…

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  7. I was just a nascent comic reader at this point, a 4th grader. Wish I had picked some of these up at the time, but I was only into the Legion at that point. I did have that digest at least.

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  8. Agree with Stephen that Flash #296 was the beginning of Infantino’s second long run on the book.

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  9. The Lazarus Affair was my introduction to RA’s and Talia.
    Agree with Dan, its a very well crafted story with clean art by Novick.

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