Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Marvel History Post 18: Tales to Astonish # 36

Issue: Tales to Astonish # 36
Writer: Stan Lee/Larry Leiber
Artist: Jack Kirby
Publication Date: October 1962

Brief Summary:

Comrade X, he of the communist threat, is charged with finding out the secret to Ant Man's shrinking ability. Meanwhile, Ant Man has established himself a network of ants to find out where he is needed in the big city. Ant Man hears of a woman who needs him at the police station, shrinks to ant size, and shoots himself out of a rocket to the police station, and lands in a pile of ants. Ant Man finds the girl who is looking for him, and rides in her purse back to her apartment, where he creepily makes his appearance known. The lady informs him she was in love with Comrade X, who left her for another woman. Wanting revenge, she informs Ant Man that Comrade X is in the states on a freighter. Ant Man heads down to the freighter in ant form, and gets an ant farm planted on him, thus trapping him. Ant Man forms an elaborate plan to get other ants to come aboard the ship to help him. They do, and he rides an ant to the radio room, where he knocks out the guard and then signals the authorities. Ant Man goes for Comrade X, who catches on to him, and plans to take him out. But, the ants manage to turn off the lights. Ant Man ties Comrade X's shoes, and Comrade X goes down and is swarmed by ants. But, the ants pull off Comrade X's mask, and reveal it's actually Madame X (The Crying Game all over again). Madame X is the woman who turned Ant Man on to Comrade X's presence in the beginning, but Ant Man was on to her tricks, as he saw her mask while hiding in her pocketbook. Who knows what else he found in there. The reds are taken into custody, and Henry Pym rides off into the night on his trusty ant steed.

Commentary:

Communism, communism, communism! It's everywhere in the MU in these stories, which is something I did not expect to be so prevalent. Unlike the other solo superheroes we've seen so far (Thor, Hulk), Ant Man does not yet have a lady interest. I wonder who that could be? I have to admit, Ant Man's powers come across as pretty campy, even compared to a guy who bangs a stick against the ground and becomes the Norse god of thunder. A man riding a bunch of ants around to do good deeds doesn't sit well with me. Perhaps his obsession with ants is a sign of what will become his jerkery and instability.

Quick Thoughts:
  • Ant Man's city is unknown. Sometimes the setting of the story is fictitious in the MU so far, and sometimes its left vague. It still hasn't been established that New York city is where the action's at.
  • Why Ant Man doesn't just grow to normal size to escape the glass ant cage is beyond me.
Favorite Panel: The how he got there isn't important because he sneaked a ride in your purse. Not creepy at all. Nothing to see here.

Next: Fantastic Four # 8

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Marvel History Post 17: Strange Tales # 101

Issue: Strange Tales # 101
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
Publication Date: October 1962

Brief Summary:

Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, tries to live an ordinary life in Glenview. Meanwhile, some creep named the Destroyer plans to destroy a new amusement park. Johnny is happening past when a man goes off the rails while testing a roller coaster. Johnny turns into the Torch to save him, all while maintaining his secret identity. The Destroyer is sending notes to the newspaper that construction on the amusement park must stop, or he will strike again. The note is ignored, the Destroyer strikes again, and it's more Torch to the rescue. So, the Destroyer challenges Torch to a fight. The Thing shows up and offers to help, but Torch says he's got to handle this one himself. Torch goes, and the Destroyer traps him with liquid foam, but when some teenagers happen upon the spot, Destroyer heads for the hills. Torch puts his best detective skills to work to note that the Destroyer only went after the tall rides, and finds out it was to hide a submarine full of commies that would have been spotted! Turns out the Destroyer is actually the publisher of the town's newspaper. J. Jonah Jameson he isn't. The Destroyer goes to jail, and the Torch flies off.

Commentary:

The Human Torch's back story is touched upon here as he is placed in a starring role in these adventures. Apparently, the town knows that his sister is the Invisible Girl, but hasn't figured out that he's the Human Torch. Something tells me this won't last very long given that in Fan 4 Johnny's off smoozing with people in DC, and does not really maintain a costume conducive to a secret identity. Still, he's pretty set on maintaining that identity here. A lot of the adventures of heroes in these days rely so much on the maintenance of the secret identity. This will remain a prominent component of only a few of Marvel's heroes in later years, with Spider-Man being the most well known Marvel hero who maintains a secret identity.

Quick Thoughts:
  • The Human Torch is only appearing through the "courtesy" of the Fantastic Four magazine.
  • The Destroyer's costume looks a lot like that of the young kid Dave Lizewski, the lead in Mark Millar's Kick-Ass
  • Thing is still rockin sunglasses in a brief cameo
  • Torch can control any flame that's near him
Favorite Panel: ...and yet he doesn't get cancer. More benefits of being a super hero, I suppose.

Next: Tales to Astonish # 36

Monday, June 28, 2010

Marvel History Post 16: Journey Into Mystery # 85

Issue: Journey into Mystery # 85
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
Publication Date: October 1962

Brief Summary: We are shown Asgard, the realm of the Norse gods, connected to Earth by the Rainbow Bridge, which also connects Earth to the universe of these creatures. There Loki, the God of Mischief, is condemned to be captive in a tree until someone sheds a tear for his plight. Loki gets Heimdall, warder of the rainbow bridge, to shed a tear, and Loki is free to go after the one who imprisoned him, Thor. Loki finds Thor on earth through a connection Loki makes to Thor's hammer, and so Loki goes after him to Earth. Loki causes some mischief to flush Thor out, and then challenges him to fight in the skies. Once there, Loki hypnotizes Thor. He tricks Thor into releasing his hammer, and then is distracted by the hammer. Without the hammer, Thor turns back into Don Blake, and the hypnotism is broken, so he grabs the hammer back. Loki will go on to have somewhat better plans in the future. Thor then chases Loki all around the city before Thor knocks Loki into water, where his magic is useless. Thor then uses his hammer to throw Loki back to Asgard.

Commentary:

More characters from Norse mythology are now worked into Thor's story, and we also see his homeland, mighty Asgard. We also get a reference to Odin, Thor's pappa, and a very brief cameo at the end of the issue. The distinction between Don Blake and Thor is not yet clear. In this issue, at several times we see Thor thinking about how he knows of Loki, the trickster god, but references that he has this knowledge through his studies of the mythology. So, Don is still aware of who he really is when he becomes Thor.

Quick Thoughts:
  • Loki turns people into "negatives?" And Thor blows anti matter at them to turn them back into normal people? A strange magic indeed.
  • Stan has some creative ways of hypnotizing people before he just invents Professor X. It would seem that both Prof X and Magneto were just Stan Lee plot twists personified.
Favorite Panel:

Here Loki challenges Thor to take to the skies with his best Steppenwolf impersonation. There's nothing particularly noteworthy about this panel other than the caption at the bottom, where Stan advises Thor to be careful. I wanted to briefly consider how this style of comic book storytelling with an intrusive narrator has completely gone out of vogue. I would assume that the reasoning behind this is because that kind of narration is not realistic, and yet I am curious why any super hero comic would be too concerned with realism. It seems that readers are still comfortable with outlandish superpowers, but the boundary between the writer and the story is now more firm than it was back in the early days of Marvel. I myself now find the narration here too intrusive in newer comics, but I wonder what it is about it that would make it seem so phony in modern tales. The only time captions are really used anymore is for first person narration. I'd be impressed if I could see a modern comic use third person narration to effect given the way the stories are written these days.

Next: Strange Tales # 101

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fantastic Four # 7

Issue: Fantastic Four # 7
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
Publication Date: October 1962


Brief Summary:


A creepy alien named Kurrgo, ruler of Planet X, has been monitoring the Fan 4, and is distressed that his planet is about to crash into another planet.  Planet X only has two spaceships, but Kurrgo sends one of them out to earth (without Superman) piloted by a robot to find the Fan 4.  Meanwhile, the Fan 4 are due to be honored in the nation's capital, but the group is reluctant to go.  Thing doesn't want to go, and Reed says he's disappointed to have to take a break from an experiment on rocket fuel. One's a stony monster, the other has to stop working for a little while. Yeah, they're on an even playing field.  As the Fan 4 arrive in Washington and receive their honors, the robot activates a ray that makes everyone feel hostile.  The crowd honoring the Fan 4 suddenly turns on them.  The Fan 4 runs from the people and the army like they're the Hulk.  They get back in their ship, but now the robot's ship is following them.  They make it back to their own roof, where the robot emerges from his ship and delivers a message from Kurggo.  He says the people of earth will hunt the Fan 4 wherever they go, so they need to come with him, as his master has a request for them.  The Fan 4, always up for anything, go with the robot.  When they arrive, Kurrgo explains that he needs the Fan 4 to save his planet from destruction at the hands of the asteroid headed towards it.  Thing and Torch ain't pleased with this, and attack the robot.  When they settle down, Reed goes to work on saving the planet, but he's only got 24 hours before it collides with the other planet. Ain't no thang for Mr. Fantastic though, who invents something to shrink all of the people of Planet X so they can fit in one spaceship and escape.  Reed tells them that there is then an enlarging gas they can release when they find a new world so they will be restored to full size.  Kurrgo is pleased, and let's the Fan 4 go.  As the Fan 4 escape, Kurrgo decides to keep the enlarging gas for himself.  Big mistake, as due to his greed, he doesn't make it to the ship in time, and goes down with Planet X.  Meanwhile, Reed explains to the others that there was no enlarging gas after all, so the people of Planet X will remain Kandor-sized forever.


Commentary:


We have a few signs of Reed's obsession with science and invention, so much so that it hampers him from acting like a normal guy.  In this issue, we see him compare his suffering at having to postpone his experiment to the Thing's monstrous appearance.  He also is blown away by Kurrgo's robots technology, when he really should be focused on why the hell everyone in the world wants the Fan 4's hides.  And, finally, he more or less agrees to go with Kurrgo's robot due to his insatiable curiosity about Planet X.   Again, Stan's not careful about keeping a lot of his villains alive.  Kurrgo bites the dust here, after the Executioner got killed over in Journey into Mystery, and Gargoyle died at the end of Incredible Hulk # 1.  


Quick Thoughts:
  • Thing's becoming self-aware about his temper and his crippling self-consciousness about his appearance
  • The army knows they can't handle Human Torch without their asbestos suits. Human Torch: 1, Army: 0, Asbestos: 2. And, we learn of a new weakness of his: Chemical Foam!
  • Torch goes supernova at one point, hinting at his untapped power
  • So Reed also invents a shrinking formula? Perhaps he traded to get it from Pym in exchange for unstable molecules
Favorite Panel:


Human Torch imagining what it would be like to try to tell jokes to the crowd in Washington, DC.  Actually, the one disappointed man does look pretty similar to how Ted Kennedy used to look during Bush's state of the union speeches.


Next: Journey into Mystery # 85

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Tales to Astonish # 35

Issue: Tales to Astonish # 35
Writer: Stan Lee/Larry Leiber
Artist: Jack Kirby
Publication Date: September 1962


Please note that Henry Pym, the man who would become Ant-Man, first appeared in Tales to Astonish # 27.  In it, he tested shrinking technology on himself and fought a few ants.  Instead of becoming Rick Moranis, he became Ant-Man, who first appears in this issue.


Brief Summary:


Since scientist Henry Pym's escape from the ants after using a shrinking solution on himself, he's become obsessed with them, and develops a helmet that lets him communicate with them.  But the government has other plans for Pym, asking him to develop something that would make a man immune to radioactivity.  Pym develops that (all in a day's work), but the commies come looking for it.  Pym refuses to give up the formula, but the men who've come for it hold him captive while they search his lab.  Pym goes McGuyver and creates a device to spring him to the window when he shrinks down to ant size, and then Pym goes off and finds some ants.  They sense his communication, but one of the big ants still wants to throw down.  Pym, in ant size, still has the strength of a full size man, so he wins handily.  Pym brings the ants to his attention, but on his way out of the ant hill encounters a beetle who likes Pym's sense of style.  Pym tricks the beetle into falling into a hole, and continues on his way with his ants.  Pym uses the help of the ants to free his co-workers, and then has the ants attack the commies. While they're fighting ants, Pym's co-workers are able to take action.  Pym returns to his office and to full size.  The commie crisis is averted, and Pym's scientist friends are none the wiser that he is Ant Man.


Commentary:


With all of the communist activity, I'm detecting a theme in these early Marvel stories.  Stan is certainly tapping into the zeitgeist of the times. In the MU, it's well established that Henry Pym is a jerk.  None of that is clear in these early stories.  Also, compared with meek Bruce Banner, Pym is more of a take charge guy in this story.  After all, Bruce didn't ask to become the Hulk, but we see Pym creating new gadgets and gear to allow him to communicate with ants, and to re-use his shrinking serum.  Although Pym says at the end of the issue that he hopes he won't have to use his serum again, I doubt he's going to be too upset about it by the time the next issue rolls around.


Quick Thoughts:
  • Pym got his hands on some of Reed's unstable molecules to make his shrinking costume, it seems.  The Hulk could use some of those for his outfits.
  • Lee apparently plotted these ant man tales, but his brother Larry Lieber did the scripting
Favorite Panel:


Henry Pym going all McGuyver and setting up the ole ash tray rubber band catapult.  Also, is the ash tray a sign that Pym is another one of Stan's pipe smoking scientists?  Don't know why I'm so interested in this.  Perhaps its the policy (a ridiculous policy, I might add) that Marvel has taken for a number of years that none of their character smoke.  Yeah, Wolverine can skewer everything and everyone in sight, but smoking, even with a healing factor that would prevent him from ever getting lung disease, is a no-no.  That makes less sense than the last issue I read of Journey into Mystery.


Next: Fantastic Four # 7

Friday, June 25, 2010

Journey into Mystery # 84

Issue: Journey into Mystery # 84
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
Publication Date: September 1962

As a note, at this point in the mighty Marvel publishing schedule in 1962 there is more than one book set in the MU coming out each month. Until I come up with a better system, I'm going to post them in alphabetical order, unless it's clear that one should be read ahead of another one. Anywho, onto Thor...

Brief Summary:

Dr. Don Blake has returned from vacation to his medical practice, where we learn he has a crush on his nurse, Jane.  He won't reveal his feelings because he is a cripple and thinks she could never love him.  Before anything happens there, civil war breaks out in San Diablo, and the leader of the commie group is a warlord called the Executioner.  The country needs medical aid, so Don volunteers to go, bringing Jane with him.  They travel by ship to reach the country, but the Executioner orders it sunk.  This doesn't sit well with Don, who transforms into Thor and sinks the planes prepared to attack the ship.  The Executioner is displeased with this failure.  When the Americans are on shore, they are attacked by his men.  Don creates a thunderstorm to help protect the Americans.  Then, he turns into Thor and takes down a tank or two.  In all the hubbub, Jane is captured.  Don follows after them, calls the Executioner a coward, and then turns back into Thor.  The other army in the war shows up, and the commies aren't prepared to fight Thor (who unleashes a volcano) and the other army, so they surrender.  The Executioner tries to escape with a couple of bags of money, and is gunned down by his own men.  Don Blake and his nurse then get to treat the people of San Diablo, while Jane wishes Don were as brave as Thor, not knowing they are one and the same.

Commentary:

This issue didn't work for me very well.  Why are a bunch of American doctors landing in the middle of D-day?  I understand they want to help, but the middle of a war, without any other support, doesn't quite seem appropriate.  Also, Thor/Don Blake seems more bound to the superman tradition of hiding one's special identity.  Of course, Don only recently received his powers.  I suppose it is only human nature to try to keep such a thing secret.  It does not seem that Thor yet has a clear game plan for how he wants to operate as both a doctor and a Norse god of thunder.  As I typed that last sentence, I found myself having a hard time blaming him, though.  With the Executioner killing his own men for failure, and then getting gunned down himself, we see more of how the MU, even in its early days, could be a violent place.  Of course, in these comics, the truly brutal violence is still happening off panel.

Quick Thoughts:

  • Love troubles exposed in thought bubbles are here!
  • The Executioner doesn't want any aid going to the peasants.  What kind of communism is that?
  • San Diablo is obviously a fictional country.  I'm curious to see if it will be back.
Favorite Panel: The Executioner orders deaths while wielding his mighty chicken drumstick.  I think it's pretty clear he didn't have much of a shot against Thor from the get-go.

Next: Tales to Astonish # 35

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Incredible Hulk # 3

Issue: The Incredible Hulk # 3
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
Publication Date: September 1962
Brief Summary: 


It's just another night in the life of the Bruce Banner, as his friend Rick Jones locks him in an underground cavern while he transforms into the Hulk.  The Army rounds up Rick afterwards and brings him to General Ross, as Ross knows there’s a connection between Rick and the Hulk.  Ross tells Rick that his plan for the Hulk is to make him go all Slim Pickins and ride a rocket that they are testing to see if he can withstand the blast.  So, in the interests of the country, and in the hope of seeing the jolly green giant ride a missile, Rick frees the Hulk, and goads him to the missile.  The riding of said missile is less exciting than advertised, and Hulk returns to Bruce while he's actually located inside the missile.  The rocket is shot into space - it wasn’t a test at all!  That rascally Thunderbolt Ross...Bruce is bathed in more radiation, while Rick fiddles with the control panel to get the capsule containing Bruce to come crashing back to earth.  Rick goes to find the capsule, expecting Bruce because it’s the daytime, and gets a heaping helping of Hulk instead.  But, Rick discovers that he now has gained control over the Hulk.  Rick discovers the hard way that he only has control over Hulk while Rick remains awake.  Rick gets the Hulk back to his underground cavern.  Elsewhere, two F.B.I. men come across a town where everyone is motionless.  This is the result of a hypnotist called the Ringmaster, who hypnotizes towns as part of his traveling circus and then robs the people.  Back to Rick, he goes and visits his aunt to rest up, and then catches up with the Ringmaster’s traveling circus. When he feels himself getting hypnotized, he calls the Hulk to his rescue.  But, without future commands from the hypnotized Hulk, Ringmaster’s crew gets the best of him.  Ringmaster tries to add Hulk to his act, but…well…Hulk smash.  The government catches up to everyone, but Hulk bounds away with Rick.  Thunderbolt Ross is displeased.


Commentary:


This is the first issue where the matter of what makes the Hulk the Hulk is adjusted.  Now, it's no longer darkness that causes Bruce to turn.  Also, there's still a lot of questions about the nature of the relationship between Rick Jones and the Hulk.  With Hulk not even returning to human form at the end of this issue, in many ways, these early stories paint Rick Jones as the main character.  Despite this, we do not know much about Rick.  Here we meet a member of his family for the first time, and we know that he snuck into the test site of the Gamma bomb on a dare, but we don't have much of a sense of him.  It is clear that he blames himself for the disaster that caused Bruce to turn into the Hulk, but we haven't seen Bruce really lash out at Rick for it, even though the Hulk has. We don't see any of Thunderbolt Ross' daughter Betty in this issue.  Obviously, she'll be back, but her lack of presence was noticeable. We do see Ross maintaining a consistently negative outlook on the Hulk.  No one seems to want to study the creature, but rather just destroy it.  Finally, the Hulk series seems to differ from the Fan 4 in that there is an identifiable problem that has yet to be resolved, and that's how to keep Bruce Banner from turning into the Hulk.  With the Fan 4, there is conflict among team members, but there is no driving force for the group, other than to thwart evil and have adventures.  To some extent it might be to turn Ben Grimm back into a normal looking guy, but this "turn the monster back into a man" is far more prevalent in the Hulk's saga.  It has been the driving force of the story thus far, and will remain a key issue in future Hulk stories.  And yet, despite some of the damage the Hulk has caused, he's gotten Rick out of a bind or two, and also helped to thwart communism.  So, is the Hulk such a bad thing?


 Quick Thoughts:
  • There was an ad for an inflatable boa constrictor in this issue. I considered purchasing, but the company has probably been out of business for thirty years or so.
  • The Hulk is not a speedy character, but...
  • We get to see that powerful leaps are how the Hulk can get around.
  • Stan Lee has a lot of hypnosis in these early stories, with the Ringmaster the latest in a growing line of characters that have used it thus far, including Reed Richards and Miracle Man.
Favorite Panel:

What we have here is a simple case of the Hulk gut punching an elephant.  Or, at least that's how it looks.  The panel says that Hulk is merely pushing him, but that looks like a gut shot.  Add in a few men flying off of a see-saw, and you've got high comedy.



Next: Journey into Mystery # 84

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fantastic Four # 6

Issue: Fantastic Four # 6
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
Publication Date: September 1962

Brief Summary:


The Fan 4 are on the hunt for signs of Dr. Doom after last issue's dust-up.  But, Dr. Doom is busy setting up an uneasy alliance with Namor by preying on Namor’s hatred of surface dwellers.  Doom gives Namor a powerful magnetic device to put in his belt to defeat the Fan 4.  Namor comes to the Fan 4 at their hideout, where Sue’s crush on the king o’ the seas is ousted in front of the rest of the group.  Namor claims he’s come on a mission of peace, but he himself gets double crossed himself when Doom, from a nearby plane, uses the device in Namor’s belt to lift the entire building up and away into space.  With the situation grim, Thing decides the only proper course of action is to try to beat the snot out of Namor for setting the whole thing in motion.  Namor then rests up in a water storage tank in the building, and then uses the power to leap to Doom’s ship.  Doom tries to kill Namor with electricity, but Namor, like an eel, shoots the charge back it him.  Doom escapes the ship, clinging to a meteor as he is whirled away, never to be heard from again (right).  Namor guides the Fan 4’s building back to its proper place on Earth, and then returns to the sea.



Commentary:

Here we have one of Stan's early nods to what will become the continuity of the Marvel Universe, as the Fan 4 are thinking about Dr. Doom and Namor, who both return in this issue.  Also, we see a few more quick interactions with the average citizen of the MU, many of whom are now starting to believe that the Fantastic Four are real.  One thing worth noting is that the engagement between Reed and Sue that was mentioned in the first issue has not really been discussed much since, and it is likely that it has been dropped.  In this issue we see that Sue has a rather substantial crush on Namor, who she believes is "misunderstood."  This may have been in reaction to Namor's first appearance in Fan 4, where he is portrayed as a villain after lashing out at the people who destroyed his home (perhaps not the most villainous thing in the world).  We now see that there are people who sympathize with his situation.   I'm also intrigued to see if and how they explain Doom's getaway, as when we last see him in this issue he is hurtling into the recesses of space on a meteor to think about what a bad boy he's been.



Quick Thoughts:
  • The infamous unstable molecules of Reed's costumes make their first appearance. I guess Reed took Sue's initial costume idea and ran with it.
  • Stan sure came up with a lot of silly magnetic devices before he finally caved and just invented a character who can control magnetism.
  • Who the hell is funding the Fantastic Four? They sure have a lot of sweet stuff.
  • Torch's flame appears to have a time limit of some sorts at this point.
  • Given his back crossing here, I guess Doom isn't quite the man of his word that Reed portrayed him as last issue.
Favorite Panel:


After showing the earlier cutaway of the Fan 4's base of operations from issue three, I couldn't help but put in this image, which is more detailed, but still has that classy anti-vibration wall on display.


Next: Incredible Hulk # 3

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Amazing Fantasy # 15

Issue: Amazing Fantasy # 15
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko
Publication Date: September 1962

This is exciting.  Spider-Man is almost without a doubt the Marvel Universe's most famous superhero.  He is arguably the most popular superhero ever created, with Batman and Superman from competitor DC comics as his greatest competition.  I can't even imagine the amount of merchandise that's been produced in his honor, or the money that's been spent in his continued entertainment support. And Stan & Steve invented the guy in 14 pages. Makes you think...


Brief Summary:


I dunno if summing this up is really necessary.  Many others have done it before me, and anyone interested in this type of blog probably knows how the story goes.  But I digress...Peter Parker is a high school science geek who lives with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben.  At a science fair, he’s bitten by a radioactive spider, which gives him superhuman strength and agility.  Peter invents something to shoot a web like substance as well, and introduces himself to the world as Spider-Man, a TV sensation.  At one point, Spider-Man has the opportunity to catch a crook, but, disinterested, he does nothing.  When he gets home, he finds that his Uncle has been murdered.  Spider-Man chases off to catch the person that did it, and finds out it was the crook he let get away.  Peter learns then his greatest lesson, which is that with great power comes great responsibility.  Oh, and a legend is born.  No big deal.


Commentary:


I'm not sure what I can say to add to the beginnings of one of comics' greatest success stories.  Of the many heroes Stan created in a short span of time for Marvel comics, Spider-Man is clearly the most appealing and enduring.  I have to assume that even if almost every aspect of Marvel were to shut down, the company would still be churning out Peter Parker product.  The main reason that Spider-Man became a great success is well documented, but it's still worth repeating, and that's his everyman quality.  Spider-Man is a great unifier.  It is the fact that he doesn't always succeed, that he's not that well liked in the MU, and that he has some of the absolute worst luck known to man that keeps people interested in his continuing saga.  Also, his origin story is perfect.  It is not convoluted, but it still packs one hell of a moral punch.  The only origin one could argue that might be better (might be) is Batman's.  I'm not going to say too much more here, as a lot has already been said about Spider-Man's origin, and stated more eloquently than me.


Quick Thoughts:


  • What the hell happened to the spider? Hmm...
  • Spider-Man must be pretty good at sewing...I guess in Ultimate Spider-Man, the recent retelling of the Spider-Man saga, Bendis pokes fun at how easily Spider-Man made this sweet costume
  • Do you think if Stan had any idea how popular young Peter Parker would become, he would have named his superhero Spiderman? That hyphen is more irritating than you'd think.
Favorite Panel: It's the end of an origin, and the beginning of a legend.

Next: Fantastic Four # 6

Monday, June 21, 2010

Journey into Mystery # 83

Issue: Journey into Mystery # 83
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
Publication Date: August 1962

Note:

This issue of Journey into Mystery, as well as many of these early Marvel comics, contain several different stories.  I’ll only be posting about the ones that are applicable to the MU.  In this case, that’s the story of Thor!  I'll also only be posting the writer/artist info that's relevant to the stories I'll be covering here.

Brief Summary:

Earth can’t catch a break, as a bunch of alien stone men, vaguely reminiscent of a Thing who didn’t drink milk in his youth, show up to conquer earth.  Vacationing Dr. Don Blake has to run away from the aliens, and stumbles into a cave.  There, he finds a stick, swings the the stick, it turns into a hammer, and bam!  He’s Thor.  While he’s playing with his new powers and making it rain (no, not like that), the stone men are tricking the army into thinking they’ve got a bunch of mighty monsters in their arsenal, so Earth should let itself get conquered.  Thor takes the fight to the aliens, and gives them a solid beat down.  The aliens, not knowing how many more earth creatures might be like Thor, quit the scene post haste.  Before the army shows up, Thor returns to his mortal form as Dr. Don Blake, thus keeping the power of the Norse god a secret.

Commentary: Now we're working in some mythology to our story lines, which is fun.  Still, I'm surprised to see the origin of Thor focus on yet another alien invasion.  Being as how Thor's story comprised of only a part of this comic, Stan didn't take as much time to get into the meat of Thor's character.  A lot of the story was spent on explanations of how Thor could use his hammer.  There's a lot more unanswered questions on this one, such as why is Don Blake a cripple, where did the stick that turn into Thor's hammer come from, etc.  Guess that's why it's called "Journey into Mystery."

Quick Thoughts:

  • Whenever aliens attack, show them the most powerful version of your species. This is usually a good way to send them scampering.
  • Blake seems to be channeling the power of Thor here; he's very much aware that he's still Don Blake. Different from the Hulk/Bruce Banner situation.
Favorite Panel:  A pretty sweet shot of Mjolinir, Thor's hammer.  The inscription is a classic.

Favorite Quote:   “There! I release my whirling hammer for a split-second, catching the unbreakable thong, and then – I am pulled along after it like the tail of a rocket!!” - Thor.  Also, that’s what she said.

Next: Amazing Fantasy # 15!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Incredible Hulk # 2

Issue: The Incredible Hulk # 2
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
Publication Date: July 1962
Brief Summary:

Hulk terrorizes a few folks.  When he returns to Bruce Banner form, he and his pal Rick Jones develop a prison for him where they can cage Bruce when he becomes the Hulk each night.  Toad Men from outer space have other plans, as they identify Bruce Banner as the most brilliant scientific mind on earth (screw you, Reed Richards!), and capture him and Rick.  They want to know how good us earth people are in the sciences, but Bruce refuses to tell them anything.  The Toad Men hurl Rick back to earth, as they have no need of him.   Bruce turns into the Hulk, and puts the hurtin' on the Toad Men.  Back on earth, General Ross orders the Toad Men’s spaceship shot down.  His orders are followed, but Banner emerges from the wreckage.  Ross assumes Banner was trying to attack his country and has him locked up.  The Toad Men escape, and send word to the Mutha ship to attack earth.  The Toad Men reveal their plan to the earth, which is to hurl the moon at it.  Less than ideal for us citizens.  They will relent if the earth surrenders.  Meanwhile, Hulk busts out of his cell (you can’t keep a good giant down) and chases after General Ross.  He finds Betty, the general's daughter, instead, and scampers off with her after another dustup with the army.  Hulk turns back into Banner, and, with pal Rick’s help, decides to use the gamma ray gun on the Toad Men.  The aliens are spun away from earth, Banner and Rick score a begrudging pass out of jail, and then Rick locks Bruce away in his underground cell for nightfall.


Commentary:


This issue has a lot of parallels to the second issue of Fan 4, with an alien race trying to take over.  The Skrulls plans were more devious.  Also, while it seems that turning into the Hulk is a hindrance for Banner, it does save his hide after he's picked up by the aliens.  Bruce has so far accepted Rick Jones as his only ally in this world.  The two don't really know each other well, but are branded together perhaps by the fate of the gamma ray.  It will be interesting to watch how their relationship develops.   Again, the Hulk is another anti-hero. With people doubting the Fan 4, and the Hulk being hunted by the army, heroes in the MU are not the most popular bunch.   However, while the Fan 4 will do much to win over the fair people of New York city, attitudes towards the Hulk have remained relatively consistent since his beginnings. 


Quick Thoughts:

  • The Hulk is green now!
  • Banner has yet to learn that it's just not worth wearing nice clothes...
  • When in doubt, fire your gamma ray gun and hope for the best
Favorite Panel: To you, it may look like the Hulk is shaking off a squad of army men. To me, it looks like shorty got low.

Next: Journey into Mystery # 83

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Fantastic Four # 5

Issue: Fantastic Four # 5
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
Publication Date: July 1962

Brief Recap:


Victor Von Doom is an old college classmate of Reed Richards who, instead of engaging in fraternity pranks, all night benders, and bounteous feasts of Ramen noodles, decided instead to try to learn black magic.  I think we all remember that guy from our Freshman comp class.  Victor, now going by Dr. Doom (which indicates his collegiate studies couldn't have gone that poorly) captures the Fantastic Four. Doom takes the Invisible Girl on his ship.  Doom wants the Fan 4 to go to the past in the time machine he invented to pick up…Blackbeard’s treasure chest.  The Fan 3 (Sue stays behind) are transported back in time, where they promptly steal pirate clothes.  Their next plan to get the treasure; drink grog, fall asleep, and get thrown on a pirate ship.  This works out rather well, actually, as it turns out that after conquering another pirate ship and stealing their treasure, the Thing is actually the Blackbeard of legend.  Reed divides the treasure among the other pirates, and decides to just bring back the chest for Doom (without the jewels inside).  The Thing decides he likes being Blackbeard, and plans to stay.  He sets Reed and Johnny adrift, but a huge storm washes all three ashore.   Doom brings them back to the present at this point, and explains the gems in the chest were crafted with magic by Merlin, and will make him invincible.  He’s displeased with the empty chest.  The Thing attacks, but it’s just a robot of Dr. Doom!  The Fan 4 escape a few death traps, and the real Doom gets away to plan his next attempt at world domination.

Commentary:


First of all, we get the big baddie: Victor Von Doom.  He's perhaps the most well established villain in the MU, and his first plan...steal Blackbeard's treasure.   Perhaps not his best effort. But, Doom's a crafty one, and makes an escape.  Also, some of his back story with Mr. Fantastic is hinted at.  We also get to see our first Doombot, a robot copy of Doom.  We're starting to see a little bit more of the world building of the MU.  When the powerful gems fall to the bottom of the sea, Torch worries that they might fall into the hands of Namor from last issue.

The Fantastic Four are still not getting along very well.  Despite Thing's troubles with Reed in the first issue, he's stirred up the most conflict with Torch since that time.  And, once more, a member of the Fan 4 tries to break away from the rest of the group.  This time it's the Thing, who briefly considers staying behind in time to remain Blackbeard the pirate. Reed bemoans the fact that the team cannot seem to get along at all.  This is interesting, as in more modern comics, while the Fan 4 have their conflicts, they have come together as a group a lot more.  They are often referred to as a family, which is a far cry away in these early issues, and a far cry from some of the more dysfunctional other Marvel teams.


Quick Thoughts:

  • Another meta moment with Torch reading Incredible Hulk # 1 (free marketing!)
  • Nothing stops the Human Torch! Except asbestos. Seriously, Torch: 0, Asbestos: 2.
  • The Thing actually admits he's wrong! Could be signs of a breakthrough a-comin...
Favorite Panel: Pirate Thing. To quote many a comic book, 'Nuff said!'

Next: Incredible Hulk # 2

Friday, June 18, 2010

Incredible Hulk # 1

Issue: The Incredible Hulk # 1
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
Publication Date: May 1962

A little excitement here as we add our second title to companion to Fantastic Four.  The Incredible Hulk has a long way to go before becoming the recognizable outcast we know him as today, and yet many core elements of his mythos are put in play from issue one.

Brief Summary:

Bruce Banner is a super smart scientist who’s developed the powerful G-g-g-g-bomb!  General Thunderbolt Ross, who’s a bit of a jerk, wants the formula for the G-bomb, but Banner won’t give it up.  Ross has a cute daughter named Betty, so you take the good with the bad.  Right before the testing of the G-bomb, some putz teenager named Rick Jones wanders into the test site, and Bruce rushes off to get the lad to safety.  A commie jerk spy named Igor, eager to find Banner’s formula for the G-bomb, sets off the gamma test with Bruce in the test area in an attempt to murder Bruce and steal the formula. Bruce saves Rick Jones from being exposed to the gamma rays (maybe), but unfortunately he exposes himself, and becomes the Hulk, a huge gray behemoth! The Hulk runs from the government, with Rick trailing.  The Hulk eventually turns back into mild mannered Bruce Banner, but does not know when he’ll transform again.  Igor is captured, but gets a message off to his pal the Gargoyle, both a looker and a communist, that rare and special combo.  Banner transforms back to the Hulk at nightfall, just in time for he and Rick to run into Betty and the Gargoyle, who subverts the Hulk to his will.  The Gargoyle brings Hulk and Rick back to Russia to study the Hulk, but alas, Hulk turns back into Banner with the light of day.  Betty gets left behind to complain to her father about how scary the Hulk is.  Out in Soviet Russia, the Gargoyle reveals his true desire, to become human and stopping looking like a monster.  Banner, being the smart guy he is, works that out for Gargoyle.  Gargoyle lets Banner and Rick escape, and then when the reds come for him, preferring to look like a Lex Luthor ripoff as opposed to a California Raisin with a history of sex offense crimes (you gotta read it to really understand), Gargoyle blows himself up.

Commentary:

One of the big differences between the Hulk's origin and that of the Fantastic Four is that some of the key elements we associate with him (namely, his skin color, and his penchant to change forms as a reaction to his emotions) are not established in this issue.  What we do get a lot of is the red scare.  The Hulk's origin story focuses much more on the cold war than do the earliest stories of the Fantastic Four.  Also, much of the Hulk's supporting cast is established here, including General Thunderbolt Ross, his daughter, and Rick Jones.  I am going to harp on this I imagine through a number of these posts, but I am consistently blown away by how much of the Marvel mythos gets developed in these early years.  A lot of the work done by subsequent writers is the work of refinement.  I imagine it takes a very unique brand of creativity to work with well established characters and create new stories that hold reader interest.  Comic book writers should get more credit.

Quick Thoughts:

  • Stan Lee's scientists smoke pipes. First Reed Richards, now Bruce Banner.
  • The Hulk has some creep in him in his early days, actually managing to sneak around at one point.
  • The Hulk may not be eloquent in these issues, but he does form whole sentences...on occasion...
Best Quote: "Human?? Why should I want to be human?!? - The Hulk.

Favorite Panel: In one small little panel, the Hulk's legend begins.  I like how simple this panel is, and yet it sets the pieces in place for a lot of the relationship between Rick and Bruce.  This is one of those fateful moments in marvel history, where Bruce becomes the Hulk instead of Rick.

Next: Fantastic Four # 5.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Fantastic Four # 4

Issue: Fantastic Four # 4
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
Publication Date: May 1962

Brief Recap:

The Fan 3 go off in search of the Human Torch, who left the team last issue. The Thing finds him working on cars.  Thing ready to pulverize the Human Torch when he briefly turns human again. Johnny (The Human Torch) flies off, and heads to the bad part of town, where he meets a man who hasn't shaved for a while. After giving the man the 'ole let-me-shave-your-face-with-my-flame-powers, it turns out its Namor, the Sub-Mariner, who remembers his identity after a quick dip in the ocean (the sea has a rejuvenating effect on the mind and soul).  Namor goes looking for his sea horse friends, but alas, they've abandoned their old home due to the human folk ruining everything with atomic tests.  Namor declares war on the land people, and raises up an enormous whale looking thing to attack New York.  Fortunately, the Thing drops a bomb in the whale's belly.  Namor plans to call on more...whales?...to attack, but first takes a moment to suggest the Invisible Girl become his sea queen.  She says no dice, The Human Torch manages to get Namor's sea-creature-summoning-conch dropped into the depths of the ocean, and everyone, including Namor, the Fan 4, and the quasi blown up whale creature, call it a day.  Again, that's Fan 4: 4, Namor: 0, Miracle Man: -1 (just because), Skrulls: 0, Mole Man: Still 0.


Commentary:


We've got a reference to New York in this issue.  I'm not sure what happened to Central City from Fan 4 # 1. Perhaps taken over by Miracle Man?  Doubtful.  Also, we get a nice recap of what happened last issue told through the current story.  This brings me to how all superhero comic books should have recaps.  Marvel seems to be better about doing this than DC these days, but I don't understand how it's not the norm.  Let's say you get fifteen comic books a month.  That's fifteen separate story lines you're supposed to keep track of in your brain, with a minimum of a month's hiatus between installments.  Not to mention that the average superhero title comes with its fifty some years of back story, or more.  You've got to give people a chance!  Recap pages should be mandatory. 


It was interesting to see how Namor was basically a bum with a beard for some time.  For those not in the know, Namor is an old timey creation, first appearing back in 1939.  Lee and Kirby are going to work in some of the old school characters still owned by Marvel into their stories, and Namor is one of them.  But anyways, what the hell was the guy doing as an amnesiac mess? Is there a hidden years comic I have to look forward to somewhere down the line where I get to see Namor doing his best Ratso Rizzo impersonation?



Quick Thoughts:
  • Namor portrayed here as somewhat of an anti-hero, though he has good reason to be upset with mankind
  • The Thing turns human again briefly!
  • Stan experiments with inconsistencies by offering someone five bucks to explain something that doesn't make sense. Stan later would make more financially sound offers with his famous "No-Prize" award.
  • Naming a whale creature Giganto seems a little insulting to the whale.
Favorite Panel:

I liked this one because, for the first time, I felt bad for Ben Grimm, aka the Thing.  It certainly didn't have anything to do with the way he's acted up to this point, but the way Kirby portrays him in the last panel, with a hand covering his face, makes him seem tragic. Also, in the original magazine there was a cool "What is the Hulk?" line at the bottom of the panel.  These appeared all over this issue as a little advertisement for the new marvel book. Speaking of which...

Next: The Incredible Hulk # 1

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Fantastic Four # 3

Issue: Fantastic Four # 3
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
Publication Date: March, 1962

Brief Summary:


Some bloke in a cape decides to call out the Fantastic Four, and explains how their powers are meaningless compared to his. The wiseguy, called Miracle Man (no connection to Elvis Costello), impresses an audience, and embarrasses our heroes. However, like many other people with special powers, Miracle Man decides to use his powers for evil, and makes a large replica of a monster come to life and attack. The Fantastic Four, now with a fancy Fantasticar and costumes, catch the whole thing on TV. Miracle Man declares war on the human race, steals some diamonds (make a note of this, it's important!), and then ,when found by Mister Fantastic, throws a brick at him. Mister Fantastic, recovering from getting hit in the face with a brick, gets yelled at by the police commissioner to do a better job. Yeesh! The Fan 4 face off against Miracle Man again, and Sue sneaks aboard his Atomic Tank, and she shoots a Fansti-Flare up for the rest of team to find her later. Back at the Fantasti-Ranch (okay, this term I made up), Human Torch and Thing yell at each other again, but the remaining three team members all respond to Sue's signal flare, and go put the pounding on Mister Miracle. Reed reveals that Mister Miracle is not some all powerful deity (although we'll see plenty of those later!), but merely a clever hypnotist! He figured it out by asking himself why Miracle Man, if he could control pretty much everything at the molecular level, would bother stealing diamonds? Reed's a sharp one. The Thing can't keep his mouth shut when Reed gives Torch credit for stopping Miracle Man's powers by temporarily blinding him, and the Human Torch, naturally, quits the team. Fantastic Three?



Commentary:


Well, I guess my first question is how Reed Richards, Mr. Fantastic, managed to fool an entire alien population with comic book pictures (see last issue), convince several of them that they were cows for the rest of their lives (again, last issue), and yet here, it takes him a long while before finally figuring out that this goofus is a hypnotist. I guess he does put the pieces together by the end, but Reed's got a long way to go before achieving the super intellect status he gets later on in the MU. By the way, I'm starting to use abbreviations more often now. MU = Marvel Universe. There may be more as I feel my way through this. The police commissioner really gives Reed a what-for when he doesn't bring in Mister Miracle.  A lot has been made of how in the DC Universe, the heroes are revered, while in Marvel, they are more mistrusted. We can see the seeds of how this is already developing.

The Thing cannot get along with anyone. This is one angry dude at this point. The "heart of gold" has yet to emerge. This issue marks the first letters page, with Stan answering the fan mail himself. The reviews from the peanut gallery were a mixed bag, but to Stan's credit, he published both the positive and the negative, it seems. Someone does mention that they think the Fantastic Four will become a great success. Good call, dude. This issue is also the first to feature the "World's Greatest Comic!" type stuff on the cover, a popular feature on many Fan 4 covers. Looking back, Stan's hyperbole now seems charming, but I'm wondering if it was met with the same skepticism as most similar comments receive today. When a comic book writer makes any type of hyperbolic statement today, the internet community collectively starts griping and complaining. Just curious about all of this...



Quick Thoughts:
  • The Thing is wearing sunglasses a lot. I don't see how they make him look like less of a monster, but I will say he looks more stylish.
  • The cover points out that this issue is a collector's item. That's pretty accurate.
  • Stan is still re-capping the Fan 4's origin within the context of the narrative.
  • Miracle Man should have taken his cue from the Mole Man; when you need monsters to do your bidding, you pull the signal cord.
Favorite Quote:


"The time has come for me to throw off my mask of respectability!!" - Miracle Man. He will not be the last marvel villain to lose respectability, but he may be the last to announce it.


Favorite Panel: While I hope too many kids didn't take Stan's advice and save this panel for future reference (cutting out a panel tends to hurt the value of a comic book), I thought this was a cool little view of the Fan 4's early base of operations. Plus, I'm a sucker for anti-vibration walls.


Next: Fantastic Four # 4

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Fantastic Four # 2

Issue: Fantastic Four # 2
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
Publication Date: January 1962

Brief Summary:


The Skrulls are an alien race planning on invading earth. They first decide to impersonate the Fantastic Four and make the world hate our heroes. Then, with the Fan Four neutralized, the Skrulls will invade the planet and live happily ever after. Easy enough, except the Fantastic Four catch onto it after the team is taken captive for evil deeds they did not, in fact, commit. Proving difficult to contain, the Fantastic Four escape, and they send the Human Torch to infiltrate the impostors.  When the Fantastic Four discover the Skrulls, they sneak onto the Skrull spaceship, impersonating Skrulls (how the tables have turned).  They inform Skrull senior management that Earth is not a suitable planet for taking over. This works, the Skrulls are fooled, and the Fantastic Four return to Earth.  As for the actual Skrulls who are left behind (three of the ones who posed as the Fan Four), Reed hypnotizes them into forgetting they are Skrulls in the first place. Fantastic Four: 1, Skrulls: 0, Mole Man: Still 0.


Commentary:


The Skrulls, a nasty group of shapeshifters who wrecked havoc in the Marvel Universe in the company wide crossover
Secret Invasion storyline, are first introduced here. While they're clever enough to come up with funky devices to impersonate the powers of the Fan Four, they're outsmarted by Reed Richards explaining to them that earth is inhospitable, and showing them comic book illustrations as proof. Then, Reed hypnotizes the remaining Skrulls on earth into thinking that they are cows for the rest of their natural born Skrull lives. Of the many ignominious defeats the Skrulls will suffer at the hands of Marvel heroes, this is a big one. We've also got some more infighting among the members of the Fantastic Four, with Thing remaining the instigator. This issue, he argues with Mr. Fantastic and Torch. We also see Reed blaming himself for the accident that made the team all...well...fantastic.  The whole monster persona that Thing takes on is a recurring theme in a lot of Stan Lee stories, especially the Hulk, which is coming up soon.

Quick Thoughts:

  • Thing's desire to smash everything seems like a predecessor of "Hulk smash!"
  • Even at this early stage, the human populus of the Marvel Universe (MU) has doubt in its heroes
  • The Fan 4 apparently have a number of secret "apartment" hideouts.
  • Reed fools the Skrulls with pictures from other Marvel comics, notably Journey into Mystery and Strange Tales. Totally meta.
  • Ben transforms human for a panel or two before its back to being the Thing
  • Keeping anyone locked up, for any reason, is a hard thing to do in the MU
Favorite Panel:


How do you stop a Skrull? Here's how!

Next: Fantastic Four # 3

Monday, June 14, 2010

Fantastic Four # 1

Issue: Fantastic Four # 1
Writer: Stan ("The Man") Lee
Artist: Jack ("King") Kirby
Publication Date: November, 1961

Alright, here we are...the beginning.


Well, a beginning, at least. Most comic folk think of the first issue of the Fantastic Four as the beginnings of the Marvel Universe, so it's a good place for us to start. However, some of the elements of Marvel had been established at this point. Captain America already existed, as did an earlier version of the Human Torch, and Namor (whom we'll see in a few issues), and many other characters still popular today.


But Fantastic Four # 1 marks the start of the Marvel Universe as a (somewhat) cohesive whole, and therefore, it's a good place for me to begin this exercise.


Brief Summary:

The Fantastic Four are introduced. They are Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic, Sue Storm, aka The Invisible Girl, Johnny Storm, aka The Human Torch, and Ben Grimm, aka The Thing. They came into the super hero scene by flying into space and encountering a cosmic storm, thus receiving their strange powers through cosmic rays. Reed calls the group together because of strange attacks by monsters.  Reed pinpoints a place called Monster Isle as the spot equidistant to all the cave-ins, and so the group travels there to see what's up. They encounter the Mole Man, a strange looking fellow who abandoned humanity after years of abuse for his physical appearance, and found underground creatures to control instead (naturally). Alas, the Mole Man has nothing in the face of the Fantastic Four, who defeat him pretty handily, and sink Monster Isle in the process (easy come, easy go). Fantastic Four: 1, Mole Man: 0.


Commentary:


Stan starts the story of the Fantastic Four en media res, introducing our heroes as they answer a signal flare shot out by Reed Richards.  Afterwards he presents their origins. Also, Ben Grimm is not a huge fan of Reed Richards, and has a crush on Sue Storm, Reed's fiance. I've got a hunch that in the long run, Reed's gonna win this battle.


The Fantastic Four seem to live in a city called Central City, so we'll see how long that lasts before it's replaced with New York City, which is the center of the Marvel Universe.


Quick Thoughts:

  • Going into space never really seems to work out as planned in comic books.
  • There's a tasteful reference to the space race against the "Commies" by Invisible Girl.
  • Mole Man's radar sense warns him of danger, which seems a harbinger of Spidey's ever-tingling Spider Sense.
Favorite Panel:

This panel is entertaining for a host of reasons. First, Mole Man pulls the popular "signal cord," number one on the list of ways to attract Godzilla like monsters to do your bidding. Second, in the heat of battle, the Thing still finds exciting ways to emasculate the self-proclaimed Mr. Fantastic.

And that's that. In one little post, all of 1961 is covered. Continuing at this pace, I should wrap up this whole project in about two months. That seems likely.


Next: Fantastic Four # 2.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Marvel History Post 1: The Gameplan

Alright, here we go.

You'll have to bear with me, as I'm flying by the seat of my pants so to speak, and I've got only a very rough idea where I'm headed with this absurd idea of mine.

I'm going to try to read through every single comic book produced by Marvel set in their primary superhero universe, blog about each issue, and in doing so, try to form a cohesive vision of the history of Marvel Comics. You may laugh at me now.

First, a few points of clarification.

When I say the history of Marvel Comics, what I mean is more the history of the Marvel Universe. While reading all of Marvel comics in the order in which they were published will probably offer some insight into how the effect of certain writers, editors, and artists influenced the shaping of the universe, this is not my primary concern. I am much more fascinated by the stories, and how they began to shape to form a (loosely) cohesive world.

While I may stumble across the occasional insight into the workings of the mighty Marvel bullpen, I highly doubt I'll be able to provide much insight into how the creators developed the characters.

This is about the building of a fictional world. As is often the case when there is more than one hand helming the ship (is that a real phrase?), the world was not necessarily built to last, and while there is a strong continuity in the early marvel titles, this is largely due to a few creators being responsible for every book marvel published. Stan Lee himself has admitted that the reason Spider-Man graduates high school so early in the series is that he did not expect the series to last.

Do I think the attempted end result of this project (a coherent history of the Marvel universe) is actually possible? No. Not at all. At least, not by one person who's working on said project as a hobby. As I pointed out in my previous post, even if I'm able to do an issue a day, I'll never catch up to the company's current output. In fact, I'll only far further behind.

So what then will I actually end up with? I'm hoping that I'll get a look at Marvel's earliest days, back when the company was fresh, and lush with new characters, ideas, and innovations. Superhero comics are a unique entity in that there is very little impetus to come up with fresh, new characters and ideas. As an example, the branding of Spider-Man, Iron Man, the X-Men, etc. is ingrained into the market. For proof, go to a comic book convention and oogle at the millions of items of merchandise that can be purchased in support of these characters. Marvel (or now, Disney, I should say) is still making plenty of money off of a host of characters, the vast majority of whom were created in the 1960s. And they are consistently generating new product based on these same characters! With zero knowledge of the statistics, I would be hard pressed to name a larger money making and ever changing story over a consistent period of time than that of DC and Marvel comic books. Yes, I suppose the Bible would rank higher, but that's not changing on a weekly basis.

Even though Batman and Superman stories had been published from the late 30s on, I doubt very much that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were building something that they expected to become a product that would last (and flourish) through the present. Although readership of comic books has shrunk, I am amazed it has survived to the great extent that it has, and garnered support from other mediums (notably film and animation), especially for "new" stories about Spider-Man and Batman.

So now, obsessed with continuing to forge brand image of these same characters (this continues with DC recently pushing their "trinity" of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, and Marvel trying to respond with their alleged big three of Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man), both companies are trying to continue producing stories about the same set of characters. And Marvel has not once done a massive reboot of the continuity of their world's timeline (This was done by DC in the saga "Crisis on Infinite Earths"). So, current creators are trying to tell new stories about the same characters through creating an illusion of change, while still paying respect to a continuity that has been established from monthly publication of titles dating back to the early 1960s.

I am not saying this to be cynical or pessimistic; in my view, creating such stories, and keeping them interesting, is no small feat. It is far easier to re-create these stories fresh, without paying respect to what has come before. This was expertly accomplished by Brian Michael Bendis and Marvel in their launching of the Ultimate line of comics for Marvel, which, at least in its initial form, boiled the Marvel Universe back down to basics, and modernized the origin stories of its most famous heroes.

So, given the success of the Ultimate line, why has Marvel not adopted such an approach across all of their books? Why not just blow away everything that's come before and take a fresh crack their own version of how Bruce Banner became the Incredible Hulk?

I don't have an answer to this question. However, I do have a few theories, one of which is that a lot of people, both fans and creators, adore the history. They love seeing old characters crop up in unfamiliar places, they love trying to piece together the history of this universe, and they love fitting all of the pieces together. Look no further than http://www.chronologyproject.com/ or any other of a host of websites about marvel comics for proof.
.A little bit more of a background on myself, and why I find this to be an interesting project. I've been reading Marvel comics for approximately sixteen years, but I have to admit that a lot of the time, I don't know who's who. I mostly read X-Men comics for a long while (my first love), but several years ago I branched out to the rest of the Marvel universe. And, a lot of the time, I'm confused. The only reason I can see new people getting involved in the primary marvel universe is because they have some sort of twisted interest in decoding events, and unfurling a history. All of this fascinates me as well, although, with the exception of some of the X-Men's history (perhaps some of the most convoluted stuff you'll find), I don't know much about the early days of these heroes. So, that's why I'm going back to the beginning.
.Consider this somewhat of a love letter to Marvel comics. While I may certainly mock many aspects of superhero comic book storytelling, in the end, I love this medium, and I hope that love is clear, as I would have to be even more insane to try this without a genuine appreciation for all that superhero comic books are.

I have no idea how long I'll be able to work on this project. I may lose interest sooner than I anticipate, which would be sad, but is quite possible. I'd like to at least work my way through the Marvel universe of the 1960s, as I think reading through all of those issues alone will have merit. If I don't make it to the first appearance of Spider-Man, then I'd be hard pressed to call this project a success. But I guess we'll have to see.

Wish me luck. First up is the one that, for all intents and purposes started it all: The Fantastic Four.

A Bold New Direction! maybe...

I have recently been mulling about the possibility of starting this blog back up, but as more of a history piece. I have been considering how one would go about learning all about the Marvel Universe. I realize there are any number of internet sites and books that could help provide an overview, but having more of a do-it yourself nature, I have considered starting at the beginning, with Fantastic Four # 1, and then moving forward. Basically, a blog post a book. Of course, this is a project that is destined to fail. Even if I covered a comic book a day, I would never catch up to the present, as more than seven super hero books are released by Marvel each week. But that doesn't mean I can't give it a shot! This may happen, or it may not. I'm wondering how quickly I'd lose interest in such a project. However, being as how becoming a comic book historian may in fact be the coolest (albeit dorkiest) job known to man, perhaps it's worth a shot. Plus, in the very least, I'll be able to read some of the very earliest stories of the Marvel univese. It would be interesting to see how much (or little) has changed since the Stan Lee Jack Kirby days of Marvel. We'll see...