For Your Consideration: Marvel Firsts: The 1960s

Marvel Firsts: The 1960s

Marvel Firsts: The 1960s


by Robert Greenberger

Marvel Comics has been exceptionally good about honoring its past by constantly making available those early, key issues that introduced characters or concepts. They began that almost immediately after the birth of the Marvel Age with Marvel Tales, followed by Collector’s Items Classics. In the 1970s they mined the bookstore field way ahead of everyone else with Origins of Marvel Comics and all its sequels. The 1980s saw the birth of the Masterworks line and now you can find the material digitally.

But there really haven’t been good opportunities to sit and study the evolution of Atlas Comics into Marvel Comics, let alone the dawn of the Marvel Universe. Marvel Firsts: The 1960s corrects that academic oversight and in one 488-page trade collection, you can watch the rapidly changing sophistication in story, art, and even color.

According to staffer Jeff York, “The book originally covered the first ten years after FF #1 — August 1961 to July 1971 — and included the 1971 debuts of Red Wolf and the Defenders. Then, late in the game, we re-jiggered the book to cover the literal 1960s: January 1960 to December 1969. We added some pre-FF #1 material at the start, and dropped out everything from 1970-1971.”

In January 1960 Atlas Comics had been limited to releasing eight titles a month, thanks to a disastrous change in distributors a few years before. The only company to take them on was DC’s sister division, Independent News, so to keep the doors open, Publisher Martin Goodman agreed to the strict terms. 1960 saw Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revive the Rawhide Kid to fill a gap and is the first to be collected here. Stan and Jack’s collaboration forms the spine of the book and watching their seamless blending of talents is a joy.

A year later, Atlas wound down and Marvel was born. As legend has it, Goodman was inspired by comments from DC Publisher Jack Liebowitz and ordered Lee to create a super-team and the Fantastic Four was born. Stan has frequently said this was a lifeline of sorts as he was feeling burned out by the grind and was thinking of quitting when his wife Joan suggested he take Goodman’s order and write a book he’d want to read. The two events were like chocolate and peanut butter merging for the first time and magic happened.

The sudden success of the FF led Goodman to ask for more and Lee was happy to oblige. Working with Kirby and subsequently Steve Ditko, Don Heck, and Dick Ayers among others, Lee was writing like a refreshed man, ideas just pouring forth. You can watch the snappy patter evolve along with the increasing reliance on super-science and setting the stories in and around Manhattan, leading to the characters crossing paths. You also saw the vibrant variety of concepts being tested from the teen angst in Amazing Fantasy’s Spider-Man debut to the idiosyncratic Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos.

The firsts include stories from 1961’s Amazing Adventures, FF #1, Ant-Man’s arrival in Tales to Astonish #27, the Incredible Hulk’s birth, Thor’s reappearance from Asgard, Iron Man’s invention from Tales of Suspense, the occult world of Doctor Strange from Strange Tales (along with the arrival of the Human Torch’s spin-off series, and Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD’s debuts form that title) , here comes Daredevil, the formation of The Avengers, the return of Captain America’s solo strip, the first Tales of the Watcher and Tales of the Wasp, and the birth of the mutants in Uncanny X-Men #1.

You can also watch the Cold War influence play heavily on several features, such as the Hulk’s origin as well as Iron Man’s. Natasha Romanov also plagued shellhead as a Russian villain, complete with dark dress and veil, before the Black Widow changed her allegiance. The book also includes the Silver Surfer’s first issue and the first solo stories for Ka-Zar and Doctor Doom before they wound up sharing a revival of Astonishing Tales in 1970.

What’s nice is that lesser titles, ones that didn’t catch on, are included here such as the western revival of the Ghost Rider in 1967 and Captain Savage. In fact, the latter stories show how the momentum was like a super nova, burning brightly then rapidly cooling. Not only did these titles fail commercially, but the change of the reprint Fantasy Masterpieces to the all-new Marvel Super-Heroes and the introduction of Captain Marvel failed to excite fans and it wasn’t until a massive revamp at decade’s end before the character finally found his footing.

These are stories worth having and rereading so it’s nice that an affordable collection is now at hand.

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Marvel Firsts: The 1960s

 

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