The first few issues of these new books mined the same science fiction vein as their predecessors - flying saucers, alien invasions and men in spacesuits - probably because Martin Goodman had noticed the sudden wave of science fiction movies, from Destination Moon (1950) to Forbidden Planet (1956), that proliferated during the "Atomic Age", and finally in 1958 decided to do something about it.
But within a few months, Goodman did a bit of an about-face and decreed that all their mystery/sf comics should feature giant monsters on the covers, monsters that looked as much like Godzilla as possible. This meant that, starting with the August and September 1959 issues, the six Marvel fantasy anthology titles began their runs of creature features - though Strange Worlds and World of Fantasy were cancelled as of the August 1959 issues.
|Strange Tales was the first of the Marvel Comics to go Monster, with the August 1959 issue. The following month, Journey into Mystery also went down the giant creature route.|
|And the same month Journey into Mystery cover started cover-featuring monsters, so did Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish. Small world, isn't it?|
At the end of 1960, Journey into Mystery, Strange Tales and Tales to Astonish became monthlies, with Tales of Suspense also going monthly in January 1961, effectively increasing Marvel's line to 10 books a month. Then in September, Goodman added Linda Carter, Student Nurse to the line without cancelling anything. Either Goodman had renegotiated his contract with DC's Independent News, or they didn't notice. So he followed up by launching Fantastic Four as a bi-monthly in November 1961, making Marvel's output 11 comics per month, a total of 17 different titles.
|Linda Carter 2 came out the same month as Fantastic Four 1. The only comic I have from November 1961 is Gunsmoke Western 67, which I paid £3.50 for on eBay last year. Doubt I could get an FF1 for that price, eh?|
|At machine-gun pace, Stan brought out these new super-heroes right on the heels of Fantastic Four. Goodman responded by immediately cancelling Amazing Fantasy. Within a year The Hulk would also be cancelled.|
But earlier in the year, Stan had noticed a particularly strong reader reaction to a fantasy story he'd published in an issue of the company's best-selling fantasy book,Tales to Astonish. The story was "The Man in the Ant Hill" (Astonish 27, Jan1962). Stan thought there was something there. Coincidently, he'd do a similar story in a later Tales of Suspense, "The Man in the Beehive" (Suspense 32, Aug1962). In later tellings of the Marvel legend, Stan and others have claimed that both stories were try-outs for a new insect hero to see which readers preferred, but given the gap between the publication dates of the stories and the fact that Ant Man appeared in costume the month after the "Bee-Man" tale, that now looks like a case of revising history to make for a better back-story.
A couple of months later, the same month that Fantastic Four 7 came out, The Human Torch was awarded a solo series in Strange Tales, starting with issue 101 (Oct1962).
|The addition of Human Torch solo stories to Strange Tales was probably Marty Goodman's idea, as he'd always wanted Stan to revive the class Golden Age Timely heroes. Stan resisted for the most part, but had to throw Marty a bone occasionally.|
Then, with the sudden and swift cancellation of The Incredible Hulk, a new slot opened up, so Stan and Jack whipped up Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos, and put the series out under its own title in May 1963, as there was no generic war book left in the Marvel Line to be hijacked.
It only remained for Stan to give Marty what he'd wanted right at the start - a Marvel version of DC's Justice League of America - by banding all the existing solo Marvel characters together into a super-group, The Avengers, and throwing another complementary team-book featuring all-new character The X-Men and the Marvel line was pretty much set.
Stan and Jack - with a little help from Steve Ditko - would refine the mix over the next eighteen months or so, but the basic structure was now in place ...
THE RETURN OF CAPTAIN AMERICAAs I noted in an earlier post on this blog, one of the first Marvels I ever saw was Tales of Suspense 64 (Apr 1965). Though I quite enjoyed the Iron Man story with the Golden Avenger battling Hawkeye and the Black Widow (again, apparently), it was Captain America that really captured my youthful imagination. The first aspect that amazed me was that there were superheroes during World War 2. At that time I had no inkling of the "Golden Age"of comics and had assumed that superheroes had started some time in the early 1960s, just a year or two before I started reading them. It hadn't occurred to me that Action Comics was up to issue 323 by this time and that that would have taken, oh, at least 27 years to notch up that number of monthly comics. But then I was only ten.
The next thing that impressed the daylights out me was that Cap didn't actually have any super-powers. Granted, he was like an Olympic athlete and then some, but he was still just an ordinary human being, who couldn't fly or bounce bullets off his chest. Even at the age of ten, I could understand the concept of courage. It was around then that I resolved to be a non-powered superhero, too.
And while I was waiting for that ambition to come to fruition, I began to track down as many comics with Captain America in them as I could. But it wasn't until quite a bit later that the whole picture of Cap's life came into focus.
As I say, I had no inkling of the comics that Marvel and DC published during the 1940s, so it came as a bit of a shock when I learned later that Captain America actually had been around during WW2. But his first "appearance" in the 1960s had been as a kind of tryout in an early issue of Strange Tales, featuring the Human Torch of Fantastic Four fame.
Granted, I didn't see this comic till a little later, but it kind of supports my theory that while Stan, Jack and Steve were trying to create a whole new approach to superhero comics, Marty was there in the background asking why Stan wasn't using The Sub-Mariner, The Human Torch and Captain America as lead characters.
I didn't see any copies of Tales of Suspense 58 or 59 around during my youth, as these were victims of the great Marvel / Thorpe & Porter dispute at the end of 1964, which resulted in the October and November Marvels not being distributed through newsagents in the UK, though I did catch up with them later.
When I did finally track down copies of these issues, I found the battle issue a little disappointing. I'd enjoyed Don Heck's art on earlier Iron Man stories just fine, but I wasn't mad on his version of Captain America. However, Tales of Suspense 59 made up for all that. Here was Cap, in all his Kirby-esque glory.
|Captain America! In Tales of Suspense! Drawn by Jack Kirby! It was the best thing |
that had happened in my life up to that point.
Next: Captain America in the House (of Marvel)