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Posts Tagged ‘Marvel’

  1. Aug. 1961: Mandatory Two Pages of Text

    August 27, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    An odd feature of early comic books was the mandatory two pages of text required for publications to take advantage of second class mail rates. Until someone stumbled upon the clever substitution of a letters page, every comic book published until the early Sixties had one of these text stories. I’m uncertain what difference it made to the post office. If a comic book without pages of text wasn’t a magazine, what was it? Art? Think of the prestige comic book publishers could have garnered if they’d just spent a few pennies more on stamps!

    This month’s mandatory two pages of text comes from Tales of Suspense # 21.  Author unknown.


  2. Kirby Covers

    August 26, 2011 by The Belated Nerd


    Here’s an interesting exercise in putting yourself in the shoes of a comic book reader fifty years ago. Pretend you have never heard of the Fantastic Four when you walk into your corner drugstore and see these Jack Kirby covers on the magazine rack. Are you immediately drawn to the new title or do you have to take a closer look before you realize it’s not just another monster book?




  3. Ditko & Lee: Anatomy of a Collaboration

    August 24, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    The debate over the ratio of creative input between Stan Lee and his artists is one that has raged for years and is revived each time a new Marvel film is released or another member of the old bullpen passes away. Not surprisingly, these debates center on Marvel’s most iconic and popular characters, probably because that is where the money was, and continues, to be made. Any debate involving the comparative contributions of  Stan Lee and Steve Ditko inevitably revolves around Spider-Man. The major evidence in that debate are the evolving credits found on the splash pages of the first 38 issues of The Amazing Spider-Man. (From “Written by Stan Lee; Illustrated by Steve Ditko” to “Scripted by Stan Lee; Plotted and Drawn by Steve Ditko”)

    Curiously enough, nothing is ever made of the fact that the only writing credit Stan Lee predictably received (or took) in the years before the birth of the Marvel Universe with Fantastic Four #1, was on those stories drawn by Steve Ditko. In the Atlas years of the late Fifties and early Sixties, Stan and his brother Larry Lieber not only plotted many of the stories for artists like Jack Kirby, Don Heck and Paul Reinman but they also wrote all of the captions and dialog. Yet they were never credited as Stan was on the splash page of every Steve Ditko story. Mind you, the credit is in the form of Stan’s own signature, sometimes before and sometimes after Steve’s. To my knowledge, neither man has commented on this (at the time) unique convention.

    Which brings us to this five-pager from Tales of Suspense #22 (Oct. 1961). Even with his face obscured, the writer before the typewriter on page two looks remarkably like a certain editor.

    If I was a stickler for logic, I might be tempted to call shenanigans for the depiction of such earthly props as a mid-20th Century typewriter, waste basket and desk on page two, only to be replaced with the odd furnishings in the last panel. I don’t fancy the idea of  “nightmare pills”; that’s what I used to call Tylenol PM.

    I don’t know if it was Stan or Steve who came up with the initial idea for this story but whoever did may well have been inspired by an episode of The Twilight Zone  (“The Eye of the Beholder”) that aired the previous November. In that story, the props were also illogically earthly. And we all know that aliens all like a good smoke!


  4. Monster Pants

    August 16, 2011 by The Belated Nerd


    I’m not sure how Jack Kirby went about creating the monsters he drew for Marvel (nee Atlas) comics in the late Fifties and early Sixties. Did he start with a naked monster and then draw short pants on it or did each new creation start with an empty pair of patented Kirby Speedos? Kirby Speedos date back to the early 1940s when they were sported by Captain America and Bucky over pairs of long pants. The long pants were dispensed with when Jack started drawing monsters. I mean, who ever heard of a giant monster wearing long pants?

    So, crowd around the catwalk for the fashion show and try not to get stepped on by the models!







  5. Fantastic Four #1 Hits Newsstands!

    August 8, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    For the sake of simplicity, I usually commemorate the 50th anniversary of a comic book or magazine based on the cover date, however, it has long been the practice of publishers to print and distribute periodicals several months ahead of those dates. One of the most famous individual books in the history of comic books, Fantastic Four #1, has a cover date of November, 1961, and November is when I will likely write a detailed post about that historic issue.

    While others are proclaiming August 8 as the 50th anniversary of FF #1 “rolling off the presses” (it was likely printed a week earlier) and thus the birth of the Marvel Universe, I think it might be instructive to discuss why there is such a discrepancy between cover dates and the date comic books actually go on sale. The general practice by most comic book companies since the medium was created in the 1930s was to date  issues with a month and year 2-3 months after it was printed and  distributed.  This practice allows comic books to continue appearing current to readers even after they have been on sale for several months. The cover date also tells  newsstands when an unsold magazine can be removed from the stands and returned to the publisher (or, more often than not, be destroyed.)

    Now, back to August 8, 1961 being the day FF #1 was “printed” or “published” or “hit newsstands”. The fact of the matter is that August 8 is just a ballpark estimate based on the most common date stamped or written on the covers by some news dealers and drugstore managers. Those stamps vary by when the individual copy made it to the point of sale. Some sellers on the West Coast wouldn’t receive their copies until September. Some sellers in New York received their copies a week before the accepted date of August 8 (See the copy below stamped Aug 3).

    Putting a precise date to the start of the Marvel Universe is really not possible. One might even date it to the famous round of golf  in 1960 where Marvel publisher Martin Goodman was first convinced that super teams were the future of comic books. I’m content to spend the next several months celebrating the first issue of the “World’s Greatest Comic Magazine”.


  6. 10¢ Comic Books: The Long Road to Extinction

    August 6, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Comic books had cost 10 cents for as long as anyone could remember. Famous Funnies, the first true American comic book, sold for 10 cents and established a price point that would stand for almost thirty years.  The 10 cent comic book even survived the period of 25% inflation after World War Two that almost cost President Truman his job.

    By the late 1950s, it must have seemed almost inconceivable to comic book readers that a normal-sized comic book could cost anything other than a dime. Sure, there were 15, 20, and 25 cent “Giant Size” comic books, but the price increase was always proportional to the extra content. A 25¢ Giant-Size book would have (at a minimum) as many pages as two-and-a-half 10¢ books.

    So, it must have been with no small amount of trepidation that comic book readers noticed the inclusion of the single word “Still” set before the 10¢ price on the cover of a February 1959 issue of Chip ‘n’ Dale.  In fact, the word was on the covers of all of Dell’s comic books. Unlike most comic book companies, Dell books were populated by characters licensed from movie and television companies like Walt Disney (Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, and the very popular Scrooge McDuck) , MGM (Tom & Jerry), Warner Brothers (Bugs Bunny), and Universal TV (Wagon Train). Apparently, Dell realized early on that the time was nearing when they could no longer make  a profit on a ten-cent book and pay royalties.  Surprisingly, the Dell books were “Still 10¢” for another two years!

    One month before Dell finally raised its cover prices to 15 cents in early 1961, DC comics started sporting the “STILL 10¢” price on all of their covers.  DC didn’t have the same problem with royalties that Dell had (Superman creator Jerry Siegel was still writing uncredited DC comics for scale!), but they didn’t want a cover price differential to imply that their characters were less popular. DC had as many iconic characters as Dell; why should Mickey Mouse rate a higher price than Superman?

    A month after the Dell price hike, Charlton Comics pasted a “STILL 10¢” spash right on top of every title. This was a bold move for a company that had a reputation for turning out some of the shoddiest low quality pulp in an industry filled with shoddy, low quality pulp. Throughout the rest of 1961, other comic book companies were content to leave their 10¢ cover text unadulterated; even Atlas/Marvel which could usually be counted on to jump on whatever bandwagon DC was riding. Despite Dell’s price increase and the ominous “STILL 10¢” on the covers of at least two companies’ books, readers (save those who were exclusively Dell readers) continued to enjoy comics for the price of a dime for another six months. By the end of the summer of ’61, DC had even dropped the “Still” from the 10 cent price!

    This lasted until December when Action Comics #283 displayed something nobody could remember ever seeing before: A 12¢ price tag! Was this a good thing or a bad thing? It was an increase, but it wasn’t nearly as big a bump as Dell’s, and DC had given fair warning earlier in the year. A kid’s 25¢ allowence would still buy two comics although a few penny candies would have to be sacrificed.  If the price increase prompted any real outrage at the time, I’m unable to find evidence of it.

    The rest of DC’s titles began selling for 12¢ the same month Action did and the following month Archie Comics followed suit with all of their teen titles. That same month, Harvey Comics (Blondie, Casper, Baby Huey) adopted the ominous “STILL 1o¢” cover text.  Encouraged by the sales of the first two issues of Fantastic Four more than any lingering inclination to follow industry trends, Marvel jacked their prices up to 12¢ in February 1962 foregoing the  ”STILL 10¢” preamble. Harvey went to 12¢ a mere month after they first bragged that they were “still” ten cents and  Charlton and every other comic book company made the change by March, 1962.  It wouldn’t be until the end of the decade that companies felt confident enough to raise their price as high as Dell’s 15¢.

  7. Kid Colt, Outlaw: When Westerns Got Weird

    July 29, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Kid Colt Outlaw Vol 1 100.jpgUntil I took the time to research the entirety of Marvel titles from 1961, I would have given DC credit for inventing the “weird western” genre in the early 1970s with characters like Jonah Hex and the Scalphunter. I now think that honor should go to Stan Lee, Jack Keller and Jack Kirby for several stories and covers produced between 1960 and 1962.

    Kid Colt was no stranger to the “apparently” weird. In a 1949 story entitled “Curse of the Chinese Idol” (Wild Western #7) Earnie Hart and Russ Heath spun a tale about an object that brings death to all who come in contact with it. Kid Colt investigates and exposes it as a hoax.

    This type of “explainable” weird western plot was also used by Lee and Keller in Kid Colt, Outlaw numbers 93, 100, and 102. Kirby (who was mostly penciling monsters at this time) provided the cover art.

    “The Ghost of Midnight Mountain” in Kid Colt, Outlaw #93 (1960) is resolved with the Kid exposing the “ghosts” as cloaked members of the Caleb gang. There is, however, a slight “wink” at the end as the gang appears to be frozen stiff by a real ghost.

    “When the Witch Doctor Strikes” was the cover story of Kid Colt, Outlaw #100 (1961).  The Kirby cover shows the Kid being forced down a gauntlet of crazed Indians only to face a devil-like Warloo. Warloo is soon exposed to be the work of a stage magician named Rack Morgan and a Comanche usurper called Black Feather.

    Kid Colt Outlaw Vol 1 102.jpg“The Ghost of Silver City” in Kid Colt, Outlaw #102 (1962) has the Kid once again exposing a fake ghost; this time it’s the outlaw Johnny Ringo who fakes his own death in a plot to frame the Kid for his murder.
    Kid Colt Outlaw Vol 1 107.jpg

    Finally, in Kid Colt, Outlaw #107 (1962) we see the true birth of the weird western as Lee, Keller and Kirby jump the shark with a tale called “The Giant Monster of Midnight Valley”.  This one has an honest-to-goodness monster from another planet! Kid Colt readers may have been too jaded to suspend their disbelief in ghosts, but green men from outer space were still within the realm of comic book reality, coming on the heels of a Skrull invasion in Fantastic Four #2.

    In “”The Giant Monster of Midnight Valley”, a gigantic telepathic and telekinetic alien creature is castaway in the old west after its spaceship crash-lands on Earth. The Kid encounters the alien and decides to help him return to his planet. When the posse chasing them tries to shoot the monster the Kid takes a bullet for him. Moved by Kid Colt’s sacrifice, the alien uses a special lotion to bring him back to life. Just as the posse is moving in, a rescue party from the alien’s planet arrives and takes him away, but not before erasing the events from the minds of the posse and the Kid.
    Now, the kicker: The alien is so impressed with the daring-do of Kid Colt, he can’t abide that the Kid’s fellow humans will never know about his brave act. So, nearly a century later,  the alien visits the office of a comic book writer named Stan Lee and gives him the story so he can tell it in the pages of Kid Colt, Outlaw.
    Update: Somehow, I neglected a June, 1961 issue of Kid Colt‘s sister title Rawhide Kid. I have no knowledge of what the story entails but the cover is definitely in the realm of weird western. Without further comment, here is the cover of The Rawhide Kid #22:

  8. Atlas Monsters: Xemnu the Living Hulk

    July 28, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Ask any “true believer” in 1961 who the Hulk is and his answer wouldn’t have anything to do with gamma rays or purple shorts. Hulk was the cover name of a mind-controlling monster from Titan named Xemnu who first appeared in late 1960 and again in 1961 within the pages of the pre-Thor Journey Into Mystery (#62 & 66). Like the later  Hulk, Xemnu underwent an evolution of hues through the years; first a rust brown, then gray, and finally a snowy white which makes him resemble the abominable snowman from a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Despite his fur, he is apparently made out of metal.

    In his debut, Xemnu is one of several inmates on a prison planet until he escapes on a supply ship. The spacecraft runs out of fuel and he is forced to crash-land on Earth. There his unconscious body is found in a swamp by an electrician, Joe Harper. Sure that he can revive Xemnu by repairing his robot parts, Joe brings Xemnu’s body to his workshop. There he revives Xemnu through a process called electrolysis (I’m not making this up!). While recharging, Xemnu reveals that he is a convict and then uses his hypnosis rays to take control of Joe. After confirming that his hypnosis works on humans, Xemnu brings Joe out of his trance and reveals his plan to enthrall all humanity in order to build a new ship to take  him home. The force needed to launch the ship would cause a chain of geological events which would tear the Earth apart. Since Joe was the one who revived Xemnu, he is to be taken along and spared the fate of the rest of Earth. Xemnu enthralls the entire human race with his hypnosis rays, and has them design and construct a new spacecraft. Joe saves Earth by sabotaging the spacecraft. When Xemnu prepares to depart, two crossed wires cause a short-circuit which send him into a state of suspended animation. Harper then launches the spacecraft, sending Xemnu into orbit around the sun. Released from the effects of the hypnosis rays no one on Earth but Joe remembers that Xemnu once controlled the entire human race.

    In Journey Into Mystery #66 Xemnu awakes to find himself hurtling towards the sun.  He uses his telekinesis to bank shot an asteroid off the rocket changing its course back towards Earth. Once he arrives he sets about hypnotizing the residents of a small town to build a mass hypnotizing device. When the electrician, Joe Harper from the first story, cannot detect Xemnu’s rocket, he figures out the alien must be back on Earth and deduces his location from the blackout Xemnu has imposed on the town while his device is being built. When Joe confronts him, Xemnu pursues him to the top of an oil tower where he threatens to  ”hypnotize your atoms to fall apart”.  Joe outsmarts the metal furball once again by pulling out a mirror so Xemnu disintegrates himself.

    Something as minor a not having a body anymore didn’t keep Xemnu from returning in the pages of The Incredible Hulk, The Defenders and The Sensational She-Hulk.

    Sensational She-Hulk Vol 1 7.jpgIn the She-Hulk story entitled, “I Have No Mouth And I Am Mean!” Xemnu has taken to kidnapping pregnant women so he can take over the mailable minds of unborn children (apparently the whole enthralling thing gets harder with each appearance).  Even Xemnu must have smelled the stink on this latest plan and soon abandoned it for Plan B: Transform She-Hulk into The Bride of Xemnu! She-Hulk and her friends thwart this plan and decide to turn the defeated Xemnu over to a teddy bear loving alien called Big Enilwen who promises to ”hug him and hold him and love him forever!”
    You may remember how Fin Fang Foom had also become satiric fodder for the chuckleheads at Marvel. May the ghost of Jack Kirby haunt them forever…

  9. Atlas Monsters: Fin Fang Foom

    July 26, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    When Fin Fang Foom first appeared on comic stands in the late summer of 1961, not even the most enthusiastic fan of the speedo-sporting space dragon had any expectation that the character had much of a future beyond his first appearance in Strange Tales #89. ST-89.jpg

    In the cover story for that comic book, Fin Fang Foom was merely an ancient hibernating dragon  who is deliberately awakened from his slumber in a cave by an anti-communist Taiwanese man,  Chen Liuchow, whose homeland is under threat from the Red Chinese. Chen uses a special herb to awaken the dragon, and taunts Foom with the threat of another herb that will put him back to sleep. Chen goads Foom into chasing him, and leads him straight into the Communist invasion force, which Foom destroys. With the Red threat eliminated, Chen leads Fin Fang Foom back into his cave, where the sleep herb returns Foom to his hibernative state.

    Fin Fang Foom’s story would have to wait another 13 years to be continued  in Astonishing Tales #23 & 24 (1974).  In that story, Foom is again awakened by someone who needs the dragon to eliminate a threat, this time a giant stone monster called “It, the Living Colossus” (who, like Foom, made his debut and previous appearance in 1961). Foom and the Colossus eventually join forces to foil an invasion from the planet Stonus V. Foom swims home and goes back to sleep.

    Not until a long story appearing in Iron Man #261-275 (1991) do we learn Foom’s full back story.

    It is revealed in flashback that Foom is an alien being from Maklu IV in the Greater Magellanic Cloud. Foom and his fellow Makluans arrived on Earth in ancient China, intending to conquer the planet. Using their natural shapeshifting powers to mimic human form, the aliens infiltrate human society to study it before beginning their conquest. The ship’s navigator (Foom)  is the exception, and acting as a reserve is placed in a tomb in a state of hibernation

    The Makluan vessel is eventually found  by a supervillain, The Mandarin who steals ten sophisticated rings from it. The Mandarin was guided to the cave in the  Valley of the Sleeping Dragon by a man called Chen Hsu, who is also an alien dragon and the captain of the vessel. The Mandarin finds and wakes Fin Fang Foom, using the dragon to threaten the Chinese government. Foom helps the Mandarin take control of one-third of China. With “Chen Hsu”, whose true form is also revealed, the pair begin to summon their fellows, who had been disguised as humans for centuries. Realizing he has been tricked, the Mandarin joins forces with the heroes Iron Man and War Machine to defeat the dragons.

    Foom would make further appearances in the pages of Iron Man until apparently being exiled to Monster Isle by The Fantastic Four. After a five-year legal battle, Fin Fang Foom and three other Atlas age monsters are granted release from Monster Isle. Foom decides to reform and becomes a Buddhist.  He enters a rehabilitation program with the other monsters,  the robot Elektro; the giant ape Gorgilla, and the alien Googam. Foom is shrunk down to human size, hypnotically stripped of all his powers and allowed to enter human society. Foom becomes the  head chef at a Chinese restaurant in the Baxter Building, taking time out to team up with the other monsters to defeat the size-changing warlord Tim Boo Ba. Foom also helps Doctor Strange’s servant, Wong to defeat a bunch of Hydra agents.

    And you thought Fin Fang Foom was silly in 1961…