Friday, September 14, 2012

Make Mine Marvel

Among the dozen comic books that I bought back in September of 1962 were three published by the then-fledgling Marvel Comics Group. They'd been in business since the 1940s, first as Timely and more recently as Atlas, but with the growing popularity of their new superhero books, they became Marvel. At this point, they were still five months away from any kind of Marvel designation on the covers.

Stan Lee has said that when he started doing The Fantastic Four, he wanted to do superhero stories that were different than what other companies were doing. "The End of the Fantaistc Four" is one of those as the heroes are evicted from their skyscraper headquarters for not paying the rent. There are some rather odd things on this cover, though: The windows of the building look like they've been broken; did the angry mob hurl rocks and bricks through them, in which case they would seem to have superpowers of their own? Also, the Human Torch is walking down the street carrying what must be asbestos suitcases. You have to admire The Thing for trying to disguise himself with the hat, trechcoat and sunglasses, but why didn't Invisible Girl use her power to avoid being seen? (Of course I do know the answer: They were going for a dramatic cover, even if the scene really doesn't make much sense.)
Most of Marvel's output in the fall of 1962 was still a hodgepodge of western comics (like Rawhide Kid and Gunsmoke Western), girls' titles (Millie the Model and Patsy & Hedy) and giant monster books (Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish), though the latter group was starting to be taken over by new members of the superhero universe Stan and company were creating. Thor had debuted in Journey Into Mystery, Ant-Man began in TTA, and Iron Man was just a few months away in ToS.

The lead feature in Strange Tales was given over to solo adventures of the Human Torch and since I was already a fan of the FF, I started picking up this title as well. As with the other titles of the genre, the remainder of the issue was filled with short stories featuring monsters, aliens and "Twilight Zone"-style twist endings. "Jasper's Jalopy" and "The Little People" were the back-ups in this one.
The previous incarnation of the Torch had been a top-seller for Timely back in the '40s, which is presumably why he was the chosen as the FF member most likely to succeed in solo stories. 

Unlike Thor, Iron Man and Ant-Man (and even Spider-Man, who appeared first in Amazing Fantasy #15), The Incredible Hulk debuted in his own title. Despite exciting double-features like "The Monster and the Machine" and "The Gladiator From Space" in this issue, the book was deemed a sales failure and was cancelled after half a dozen appearances. The Incredible Hulk was the first comic book that I owned a complete run of, having purchased all six.
If you look at the microcosm of the comics-buying on one 11-year-old, you might make a case for how Marvel would eventually become the top-selling publisher in the industry. Despite DC's dominance of the market and vastly larger number of titles, 25% of my purchases were Marvel titles that month. A year earlier, almost all the comics I bought were DCs.

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