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Atlas Monsters: Stan & Jack before the Four

July 25, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

I think most comic book aficionados would agree that 1961 was THE landmark year for Marvel comics . The end of that year saw the publication of Fantastic Four #1 and thus the creation of a vast mythology we know today as the Marvel Universe. Be assured that when the 50th anniversary of that event comes around later this year, I will be writing about it. In the meantime, it might be interesting to explore what the Marvel landscape looked like before the return of the superheroes changed it forever.

The situation was pretty grim at Marvel fifty years ago. Because the sole distributer of comic books at the time was a sister  company of DC comics, Marvel was limited to less than a dozen titles a month. The comic book company (which had changed its name from Atlas to “MC” in June 1961) pretty much consisted of one full-time employee (editor Stan Lee) and an assortment of work-at-home freelancers that would eventually (and ridiculously) be referred to as the “Marvel Bullpen”. The king of the bullpen was, of course, Jack Kirby who, by 1958, had burned so many bridges in the industry that he had little choice but to work for his one time assistant Stan Lee. Seemingly forgotten was his heyday as co-creator of Captain America and the entire genre of romance comics. In addition to Kirby, the bullpen included freelance artists, Don Heck, Paul Reinman, Joe Sinnott, Dick Ayers, and Steve Ditko.  Helping Lee with the writing chores was his brother, Larry Lieber, although much of the actual writing was done by the artists themselves. 

Of the 10 MC titles with a cover date of July, 1961, two were romance books, two were westerns, one was Millie the Model (guest-starring Patsy Walker), and five – fully one half – were monster books!

We begin an entire week dedicated to a roll call of Atlas monsters with those five comic books that appeared that month in the summer of 1961:Amazing Adventures Vol 1 2.jpg

Manoo, The Thing that hid on Earth made his first appearance in Amazing Adventure #2. An 8 foot tall alien who could change his form at will, Manoo was a cop from another planet searching for an alien  fugitive on Earth.

 The fugitive has convinced young Billy Jones that Manoo is the actual criminal and gives Billy a ray gun to bring Manoo to heel. Billy searches high and low for Manoo with the knowledge that even when disguised as a human, Manoo casts no shadow. When  he fianlly discovers Manoo in a movie theater, Billy finds that he is unable to gun down the alien in cold blood. Manoo explains to Billy that he has been tricked. Billy and Manoo come up with a plan to take the actual fugitive alien into custody. They return to the fugitive’s crashed ship, pretending that Manoo is Billy’s prisoner. The fugitive attacks the boy for not killing Manoo who then engages the fugitive in battle. Billy can’t tell the aliens apart and can’t decide who to shoot with the ray gun until one of the fugitive grabs him and threatens to kill him unless Manoo gives up. Billy escapes by grabbing a tree branch and Manoo subdues the fugitive. Before leaving Earth with his prisoner, Manoo rewards Billy with a giant gemstone, making him one of the wealthiest men on Earth.

 Written by Larry Lieber – Pencils by Jack Kirby – Inked by Dick Ayers


Strange Tales Vol 1 86.jpgMechano made the cover of Strange Tales #86.

In the story, I Who Created Mechano, an old man and a boy  put together a robot for a fair.  After an atomic accident, the robot begins moving under its own power. Meanwhile, aliens are invading earth. The robot’s creators, Mister Hopkins and Tommy, use an electromagnet as bait to lure their creation to a forest where it defeats the invading aliens

Written by Stan Lee - Pencils by Jack Kirby – Inked by Dick Ayers






Journey into Mystery Vol 1 70.jpg
The Sandman from Journey into Mystery #70′s The Sandman Cometh isn’t likely to be confused with Spider-Man’s future foe.

An ex-marine takes his “pansy” son and wife out to Mexico to toughen the boy up. They explore a cave and find a sealed door that once opened, releases an alien creature made of sand that desires world conquest. The man tries fighting it, but his blows merely scatter sand which reforms. The creature shapes itself so that it appears human and all of them return to the United States. As the creature observes humans, a military parade passes by, and the man attempts to attract the soldier’s attention to attack the creature. They do so, but have no better luck than the man himself. Grenades, tanks, and bombs merely disperse the sand which reforms by willpower. The creature heads towards the beach where it intends to grow, but the man’s son becomes the hero of the story by defeating the creature with a pail of water

Written by Stan Lee - Pencils by Jack Kirby – Inked by Dick Ayers


Tales of Suspense Vol 1 19.jpg

 The Green Thing appeared on the cover of Tales of Suspense #19.

A botanist has a theory that even plants have intelligence and so he develops a serum to increase it. He travels to an island looking for a rare highly-developed plant, but can’t find one, and so he injects the serum into a simple weed. Not only does the serum work, giving the plant reasoning capability, but it increases its height and strength as well. The weed harbors plans of conquest, and so to prevent the plant from reaching the mainland, the botanist destroys the motor from his boat. The weed declares that his life is forfeit and so he runs off to hide in a cave, where he finds a member of the plant he was originally seeking. He injects the serum into it, and the weed offers to ally with it in the conquest of mankind, but the highly developed plant refuses and destroys the weed. He admonishes the botanist to give up his experiments and fashions two oars for his boat so that he can return to the mainland alone.

Written by Stan Lee - Pencils by Jack Kirby – Inked by Dick Ayers

Tales to Astonish Vol 1 21.jpg
Trull, the Inhuman (not to be confused with Blackbolt, Medusa, et al) made the cover of Tales to Astonish #21.
The mental essence of an alien bent on global conquest takes over a steam shovel and…Okay. This one is simply a rip-off of the Theodore Sturgeon story Killdozer. We’ll still give Stan the writing credit because the hero who finally defeats the evil alien steam shovel is an elephant. ‘Nuff said!

Written by Stan Lee - Pencils by Jack Kirby – Inked by Dick Ayers


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