Wednesday, September 7, 2016

"First Family" - The Men Who Created Marvel

Although Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko are rightfully regarded as the primary creators of the Marvel Universe, they were far from the only important people who worked on the comics in those early days.  The following is a series of short biographies of the men who worked on Marvel's first superhero comics of the 1960s, detailing their lives up to that point. 

Martin Goodman: Moe Goodman was born in 1908, and it wasn't until later in life that he would adopt the name Martin.  His parents were both Russian migrants, and Goodman was the oldest of thirteen recorded children.  The family lived in a number of homes in Brooklyn while Goodman was growing up, and during the Great Depression he apparently travelled the country, living in hobo camps.  In late 1929 he was hired to work for the circulation manager of Eastern Distributing Corps, and eventually he rose to the position of manager himself.  Eastern went bankrupt in 1932, so Goodman partnered with a number of other investors to form Mutual Magazine Distributors, and was also made editor of another magazine publisher, Newsstand Publications.  He helped to churn out a number of pulp magazines, with titles such as Marvel Science Stories and All-Star Adventure Fiction.  In 1939, with the popularity of comic books on the rise, Goodman contracted studio Funnies Inc. to create material for a comic to be known as Marvel Comics #1, published by his newly formed Timely Publications.  The comic was a hit, and Goodman directed Timely as its publisher, riding the superhero craze until it died out, then following every other trend that came along.  The company, later popularly known as Atlas Comics, was mostly successful under his leadership (though it could be accused of favouring quantity over quality), until Goodman's disastrous distribution deal with American News Company.  American News, which had a virtual monopoly on newsstand distribution in the US, was found guilty of restraint of trade not long after Goodman signed with them.  The company was liquidated, leaving Goodman with no choice but to sign a deal with Independent News, a distribution company owned by chief rival National Comics (later known as DC).  Atlas was forced to reduce its output drastically.   Around the same time1, Goodman apparently opened a closet door in the Atlas offices and discovered pages and pages of unpublished inventory stories.  He ordered editor Stan Lee to stop paying for new stories until the backlog had been used, a process which took around a year.  Goodman was still the publisher of Atlas (soon to be renamed Marvel Comics) in the early 1960s, and his decision-making, for better or worse, would be pivotal in the formation and development of the Marvel Universe.

Stan Lee: Born Stanley Martin Lieber in 1922, the man who would go on to be the face of Marvel Comics spent most of his youth aspiring to write "The Great American Novel".  He grew up in various houses in Manhattan, but his family was far from rich: his father worked as a dress-cutter, but was rarely employed during the Great Depression, and during his teen years Lieber shared a room with his brother while their parents slept on a fold-out couch.  Lieber graduated high school at age 16, and held down all manner of jobs as a teenager: obituary writer, sandwich deliveryman, office boy for a trouser manufacturer, and theatre usher.  His big break came in 1939, when at age 17 his uncle Robbie Solomon landed him a job as an assistant at Timely (Solomon was the brother-in-law of Martin Goodman).  Lieber's work at first consisted of odd jobs such as refilling inkwells, proofreading and fetching lunches, but he still had ambitions to be a writer.  His chance came in 1941, with a prose story in Captain America Comics #3 entitled "Captain America Foils the Traitor's Revenge".  Wanting to save his real name for more literary work, he signed the story with a pseudonym: Stan Lee.  Lee soon graduated to scripting actual comics, and later in 1941, when Timely editor Joe Simon was fired over disputes with Martin Goodman, he was installed as the interim editor.  He showed a natural aptitude for the job, and remained in that position for decades to come; his only break was during World War 2, when he enlisted and served in the military as a "playwright", creating training manuals and propaganda.  His most famous work during this time was a poster warning the troops about the dangers of venereal disease, with the slogan "VD? Not me!"  Upon his return Lee resumed his duties as Timely's editor and art director, and gradually he also became the head writer.  By the early 1960s he was still in that role, though perhaps less enthusiastically now that he was approaching forty, and had yet to begin his "Great American Novel".
Jack Kirby:  Even by the early 1960s, Jack Kirby was regarded as one of the finest creative minds in the industry.  Born Jacob Kurtzberg, Kirby grew up in a poor family on the Lower East Side.  His rough-and-tumble childhood involved being a member of a street gang, but it didn't stop him from learning to draw.  Kirby taught himself by tracing the comic strips from newspapers, and he was a fan of such artists as Milton Caniff, Hal Foster and Alex Raymond.  He left school to pursue his artistic ambitions at age 14, but was rejected by the Educational Alliance (an institution that offered classes to Jewish Americans on a variety of subjects), reportedly for drawing too fast with charcoal.  Later he enrolled at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, but left when it became apparent that he was expected to spend a great deal of time on each single project.  As Kirby put it, he didn't want to work on any one project forever, and instead he "intended to get things done".  In the mid-1930s he spent a brief time working on comic strips with the Lincoln Newspaper Syndicate, and an even briefer time in animation with Fleischer Studios.  Later in that decade he produced work for various comics and magazines under a number of pseudonyms, but it wasn't until he met Joe Simon in 1940 that his career took off.  They spent most of that year working for Fox Feature Syndicate, before jumping over to Timely Comics.  There they co-created Captain America, and became two of the most popular and prolific creators in comics.  Kirby became Timely's art director, but soon there were pay disputes between the pair and Martin Goodman.  Simon and Kirby began doing work for National (later known as DC Comics) while still working for Timely.  Stan Lee was among those who knew that this was going on.  When Martin Goodman found out he fired Simon and Kirby, the latter of whom was convinced that Stan Lee had ratted them out.  Simon and Kirby had a fruitful career at National, where they created the Boy Commandos and Manhunter, and revamped the Sandman.  Kirby enlisted and fought in World War 2, where he almost lost his legs to frostbite.  Upon returning home he resumed his partnership with Simon, and the two went on to create the first ever romance comics, a genre that would be very popular throughout the 1950s.  Flush with success, Kirby and Simon launched their own comics company, Mainline Publications.  Mainline only lasted a year, and by the end of it Simon and Kirby's relationship was strained; Simon went to work in advertising while Kirby continued in comics, freelancing for National and Atlas (the former Timely) and also illustrating a newspaper strip, Sky Masters of the Space Force.  In the late 1950s, after Atlas was forced to cut back its line, Kirby became one of its primary artists, producing from 8 to 10 pages a day.  Most of his work was on sci-fi and monster stories, which were fun, if a little formulaic.  It would have been reasonable at the time to believe that Kirby's best work was behind him, that he was a spent creative force.  The next decade, however, would see some of the greatest creative achievements of his career.

Steve Ditko: Born in 1927 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Ditko became a fan of comics at a young age.  Influenced by the works of Will Eisner, as well as Jerry Robinson's work on Batman, his talent for illustration blossomed during junior high.  Upon graduation he immediately enlisted in the military, and served in postwar Germany, but he did not allow his artistic skills to fade.  Not only did he spend time drawing cartoons to send back to his family, but he also drew comics for an army newspaper.  After he was discharged Ditko moved to New York, where he studied at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School under his idol Jerry Robinson.  Robinson often invited industry professionals to speak to his class, and one of those professionals was Stan Lee.  This was almost certainly the first time that Lee ever saw Ditko's work.  Ditko didn't begin his career at Atlas, though.  Instead he found work as an inker at the studio of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, followed by a lengthy stint working for Charlton Comics (where he co-created the super-hero Captain Atom).  His career was put on hold for a year when he came down with tuberculosis, but upon his recovery he began drawing for Atlas, and freelanced with them up through the early 1960s.  His output was mostly twist-ending sci-fi and suspense stories, in titles such as Strange Tales and Amazing Adventures, often in collaboration with Stan Lee.  By late 1961 his work had become popular enough that Amazing Adventures was renamed Amazing Adult Fantasy, and dedicated exclusively to Ditko's stories alone.

Larry Lieber: Stan Lee's younger brother may be the most unsung pioneer of the Marvel Universe.  Born in 1931, about eight years after Stan, Larry Lieber spent most of his childhood moving back and forth between Manhattan and the Bronx.  He attended George Washington High School, where he showed a great interest in art and drawing.  Larry was only 15 (or 16, accounts vary) when his mother died, and he went to live with Stan and his wife, Joan, but for unknown reasons the arrangement was an unsatisfactory one.  Larry soon left to make his own way, working as a messenger for the New York Times, and in the studio of comic letterer Sam Furber.  Eventually he went to work for Timely as an art assistant on the magazine side, while also spending his nights studying at the Pratt Institute Art School.  His first credited comics work as an artist was in All True Crime #44, published in early 1951.  Later that year he began a four-year stint in the Air Force, serving during the Korean War, but when he returned he went right back to Timely (now Atlas), mostly pencilling and writing romance comics.  After the distribution disaster of 1957, and the downsizing of the Atlas line that followed, Lieber was brought in by Stan Lee to help him with the writing load.  In the early 1950s and late 1960s, Larry Lieber was Stan's right-hand man, and if an Atlas book published during that time wasn't written by Stan, it was probably written by Larry.

Don Heck: Though Heck's work is not as well known as that of Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, he was one of Marvel's most important artists of the early 1960s.  He was born in Queens in 1929, and as a teenager he learned to draw through correspondence courses and art classes at Woodrow Wilson High Vocational School, as well as a community college in Brooklyn.  In 1949 he found work at Harvey Comics, repurposing newspaper strips into comic form (Joe Palooka and Terry and the Pirates being the most notable of those that Harvey published).  In 1952 his colleague Allen Hardy broke off to form his own comic publishing company, Comic Media, and Heck was invited to work for him as an artist.  During that time he met Stan Lee, although that meeting was almost purely by chance.  A colleague of Heck's named Pete Morisi took his own portfolio to the Atlas offices, looking to find work.  Some of Heck's pages were in Morisi's folder, and Lee kept going back to them.  Morisi called Heck over, and Heck was hired as a staffer by Stan Lee in September of 1954.  He spent a few years on staff at Atlas, mostly working on war and western comics, but he was let go when the company purged its staff after the distribution debacle of 1957.  Heck spent a year drawing model airplane views for Berkeley Models, but in late 1958 he was rehired when Lee began restructuring Atlas.  Most of his work in the late 1950s and early 60s was on suspense, western, and some romance comics, and he was one of the mainstay artists at Atlas.

Dick Ayers: Ayers, born in Ossining, New York in 1924, was probably Marvel's most important inker of the early 1960s.  His first published work came while he was serving in the Army Air Corps in 1942, a comic strip called Radio Ray that appeared in a military newspaper.  After the war he did some work with Dell Comics that went unpublished.  Following this he studied under Burne Hogarth (famous for his work on the Tarzan newspaper strip).  Joe Shuster (co-creator of Superman) would occasionally visit Hogarth's school, and Ayers soon found pencilling work in Joe's studio.  From the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s Ayers worked with a number of publishers, including Magazine Enterprises, Prize Comics, and Charlton.  He started freelancing with Atlas in 1952, and in the late 1950s he began his association with Jack Kirby, with whom he would become a frequent collaborator.

Stan Goldberg: Goldberg is rarely mentioned when talking about Silver Age Marvel, and as such it's difficult to find details about his early life.  He was born in the Bronx in 1932, and graduated from the Manhattan School of Industrial High Art.  In 1949 he began working as a colourist for Timely, and was promoted to manager of the colour department two years later (where he coloured not just interiors, but also the covers of every comic Timely/Atlas produced.  He worked in the Atlas bullpen until 1957 (when most of the staff were unceremoniously fired), and went freelance in 1958 while also studying storyboarding.  He started doing freelance work for Atlas again in the early 1960s, and went on to become their primary colourist for most of that decade.

Paul Reinman: Reinman was born in Germany in 1910.  His Wikipedia entry says that he started drawing at age three, which hardly seems like a banner achievement, but by his early twenties he was creating pen-and-ink drawings of buildings such as the Rashi Synagogue.  He emigrated to New York in 1934, and his first job was as assistant to a designer of neon signs.  Later on he designed matchbox covers, posters, fashion drawings, and package designs.  Eventually he got some work doing art for pulp mags, then comic book work with MLJ (later known as Archie Comics).  His first confirmed work was for Timely in 1940, in Human Torch #2, cover-dated Fall.  Most of his work in the 1940s was done with MLJ, where he co-created the superhero called "The Fireball".  After that he moved over to All-American (a company that later merged with National to form DC), where he became the primary artist for the original Green Lantern, and also worked on such characters as the Atom, Starman, Wildcat and Wonder Woman.  He worked sporadically for Atlas in the 1950s, and later in the decade became a frequent inker of Kirby's work in Marvel's sci-fi and monster anthologies.
Artie Simek: Artie Simek was born in 1916, but it's difficult to determine exactly when he started working in comics due to the lack of credits at the time.  He was on staff at Timely in the 1940s as a letterer, but his first credited work didn't come until 1957, in a National book: World's Finest #91.  His first Atlas credit came two years later in 1959, in Kid Colt #83.  Despite rarely receiving any credit, he was Marvel's primary letterer in the late 1950s and early 1960s, working on almost every book they produced.  Interestingly, though perhaps irrelevantly, he was noted for his ability to play the spoons.

Sol Brodsky: Born in 1923 in Brooklyn, Sol Brodsky determined at an early age that he wanted to be a cartoonist.  He started by sweeping floors at MLJ, and by 1942 he had his first confirmed comics work with Holyoke Publishing.  In the same year he began his long association with Timely/Marvel, pencilling a few short humour strips.  Brodsky served in the Army Signal Corps in World War II, and afterwards returned to freelancing.  He began inking regularly for Atlas in the early 1950s.  When Martin Goodman in 1954 sacked Marvel's entire comics staff except for Stan Lee (the first time, and not the last), Lee contacted Brodsky with an offer to be his production assistant.  Brodsky held this position until 1957, when once again Goodman sacked his comics staff.  After this Brodsky tried to start his own publishing company, but failed to find an investor.  He went on to become the editor of Cracked magazine (a Mad knock-off) in the early 1960s, and while working on that publication continued to do freelance inking for Marvel.

1. I had some trouble sorting these events out, as there are varying accounts. The distribution deal with American News definitely happened in 1957, but the story about Goodman finding inventory stories in the closet is harder to pin down. Many accounts have it taking place in 1954, but I have seen it lumped in with the distribution debacle of 1957. I'm more inclined to believe the former, and to write off the latter mix-up to faulty memories and the passage of time.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

"It Wasn't That Long Ago--But It Was A Different Time" - A Brief History of Marvel from 1939 to 1961

Martin Goodman had a knack for following trends.  The son of Russian immigrants, and the eldest of thirteen children, he had spent much of his young life during the Great Depression travelling the USA and living in hobo camps.  In 1929 he got into the magazine business, and within three years he had risen to the position of editor with Newsstand Publications.  In 1939, however, he saw a growing trend that was to make him his fortune.

Comic books were on the rise, particularly those featuring costumed heroes.  Foremost among them was Action Comics, published by DC1, which featured Superman.  Depicted on the front cover of his first appearance lifting a car over his head while wearing a colourful strongman's outfit, Superman was many times more powerful than an ordinary person, and he caught the public's imagination like nothing in comic books ever had before.  He was the first super-hero, though far from the last.  A wave of brightly clad imitators appeared in 1939, and Martin Goodman was quick to seize his opportunity.  He formed his own company, Timely Publications, and hired comic book workshop Funnies Inc. to produce his first comic.  The result was Marvel Comics #1.

Marvel Comics featured the debuts of a number of super-powered characters.  The Human Torch, created by Carl Burgos, was an android whose skin would burst into flame upon contact with air.  His intentions were good, but he spent most of his first story rampaging through New York, melting everything he passed by.  Namor the Sub-Mariner was the creation of Bill Everett.  Namor was the prince of undersea Atlantis, and he was far from heroic.  His first act in the story is to murder a pair of American deep sea divers, and from there he declares war on the surface world.  In many ways he was the anti-Superman, a powerful being alien to our society who wanted nothing more than to tear it down.

There were other heroes in addition to Namor and the Torch. The Angel was a costumed crimefighter with no special powers.  Ka-Zar was a shameless Tarzan knock-off.  But it was the Torch and Namor that were the biggest hits.  Marvel Comics #1 sold out of its initial print run of 80,000, and the second printing sold a whopping 800,000.  Martin Goodman had made it.

Never one to miss an opportunity, Goodman started building his own in-house staff, hiring Funnies Inc. writer-artist Joe Simon as his editor. The line flourished under Simon, and although Timely's comics were often crude in comparison to what was being produced by other publishers, they made up for that lack of polish with an unbridled sense of anarchic glee.  The difference can best be summed up by a comparison between the first time two Timely characters crossed over, and the first time characters from DC's stable met.  When DC launched the Justice Society of America in All-Star Comics #3, featuring the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and more, their first meeting involved the characters sitting politely around a table, taking turns to tell stories about their adventures.  When the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner met for the first time, it was a no-holds barred slugfest which resulted in the flooding of the Hudson Tunnel and the destruction of George Washington Bridge.

Simon, while working for Funnies Inc., had already befriended an artist by the name of Jack Kirby.  Kirby had grown up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and was essentially self-taught.  He and Simon had already collaborated on stories before, but their next collaboration was to be their greatest.  Together they created the patriotic hero Captain America, who was seen punching Hitler in the face on the cover of his first appearance, about a year before America entered the second World War.  Though Simon and Kirby received death threats from Nazi sympathisers, there was no chance that Captain America was going to be cancelled: its first issue sold nearly a million copies.

With the comics growing more and more successful, the Timely staff grew, and one addition to that staff was a 17-year-old kid named Stanley Lieber.  Lieber was the nephew of Goodman's brother-in-law, and was given a job as a gofer: refilling ink-pots, getting sandwiches, proofreading, and whatever other odd jobs needed doing.  Lieber's true ambition, though, was to write the Great American Novel, and within a few months he wrote his first story for Timely, a text page called "Captain America Foils the Traitor's Revenge".  He wrote the story under a pseudonym: Stan Lee.  The newly-christened Lee worked his way up the ranks, and when Joe Simon and Jack Kirby left Timely to work for DC, Lee was promoted to editor-in-chief.

As the second World War ended, the popularity of super-heroes began to decline, and other genres grew to replace them.  Goodman had a policy of following whatever genre was popular at the time, and pushing out as much content as possible while it was still turning a profit.  Timely flooded the comic racks with cartoon animal, romance, western, crime, horror, and war comics, riding each craze until it burned out, then moving on to the next one.  The comics may have been made as cheaply as possible, but they were still selling.

The good times were not to last, however.  The first blow came in 1954, when psychiatrist Fredric Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent, a book which asserted a definite link between the violent imagery in comics and delinquent behaviour in children.  This led to senate hearings, and a widespread suspicion of comic books.  Timely (by this time known commonly as Atlas Comics) banded together with a number of other publishers to form the self-policing body known as the Comics Code Authority, but the damage had already been done.  Comics would rarely see the same level of acceptance and sales as it had before Wertham's witch-hunts.

In 1956, Goodman decided to stop handling the distribution of his own comics, and began distributing through American New Company.  This turned out to be a disastrous move, as within the year American News was sued by the Justice Department for monopolistic practices, and went out of business.  Goodman had no other option left to him but to seek distribution with Independent News, who just so happened to be owned by Goodman's biggest rival: DC Comics.  Independent News agreed to carry the Atlas line, but only on the condition that Atlas would be restricted to publishing eight titles a month.

Through all of this Stan Lee remained as editor, and it was under him that the down-sized Atlas line was re-focused.  Lee gathered a small team of artists, including a returning Jack Kirby, old hand Don Heck, and newcomer Steve Ditko, and concentrated on putting out the best books he could.  Westerns and teen humour books aimed at girls were the mainstays, but the most interesting work was appearing in books such as Journey Into Mystery and Strange Tales.  In those books Kirby was crafting tales of giant monsters full of wild imagery, and titles such as "Spragg the Living Hill".  Steve Ditko was creating odd, often anxiety-ridden sci-fi and fantasy tales with twist endings.  They were by no means setting the comics field alight, but the synergy between Lee, Kirby and Ditko was growing.

Meanwhile, DC Comics had rediscovered the super-hero.  In 1956 they revived their Golden Age hero the Flash, this time with a sci-fi slant, and had a good deal of success.  In 1960 they created the Justice League of America, which united all of their most popular heroes in one team, and this book was even more successful.  So successful that, as legend has it, a top DC executive boasted to Goodman about it during a game of golf.  Whether the story is true or not, the result was that Goodman went to Stan Lee, and told him to create a new super-hero title.

Goodman's knack for following trends had struck again.  But this time, it was a trend that would not burn out after a few years, or even a few decades.  This was something else, something that would last for over half a century, with no end in sight.  This was the beginning of the Fantastic Four, and the birth of the Marvel Universe

1 DC, much like Marvel, had a number of different names throughout the Golden Age of Comics, such as Detective Comics Inc., National Comics, and National Periodical Publications. For ease of reference, this article will refer to them as DC throughout.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

"But What Does It All Mean?" - The Purpose of the Blog

The Marvel Universe is big.  Really, really big.  Just taking those comics published after 1961 into account, it's made up of well over 20,000 individual stories, and those are just the super-hero titles. Add in westerns, sword & sorcery, romance and the myriad other genres included in the Marvel Universe and things get even more out of control.  Needless to say, reading them all would be a huge undertaking.

My plan for the blog is not just to read them all, but to provide detailed indexes as well.  It's something I've wanted to do for a long time, but the sheer scope of the project has left me stymied.  The problem isn't just the number of comics involved, but the number of comics still being published every month.  I could write an entry for Fantastic Four #51, say, but there's no telling when another comic will come along and reveal something new pertaining to that issue, necessitating that I go back and revise what I'd already done.  I'd spend more time keeping track of this stuff than I would writing new entries.

My original plan was to do the comic write-ups only taking into account the comic in question, and any issues published before it.  So if I once again use the example of Fantastic Four #51 (hey, it's a great comic), my initial entry on it wouldn't have taken into account anything published after that date.  With each new comic I added I would have gone back and revised the older posts, and I was also planning on doing a series of books.  It was a serious undertaking, and well beyond the scope of a simple blog.  Hell, it was way beyond the scope of one person's lifetime.

So I'm going simpler.  I'll write up detailed entries on the comics, starting with Fantastic Four #1.  I'll try to include as much information as I can, on the issue in question and any connections it has to other comics in the Marvel Universe.  I'm not going to be as rigid about it as I was in my original plan, though, and I won't be going back to revise anything.  I'll just do the best I can at the time, and keep moving forward.

Why Fantastic Four #1?
Technically  speaking, the Marvel Universe was born in 1939, with the publication of Marvel Comics #1 (the first appearances of both the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner, among others).  But those aren't the comics people think of when they think of Marvel.  The birth of Marvel as we know it came in 1961, with Fantastic Four #1, and the many super-hero comics that followed.  Marvel in the 1960s brought a new maturity to super-hero comics, and a level of inter-connectivity between its various titles that had never been seen before.  That's where my interest lies.  And to be honest, I just don't want to read all of those comics from the 1940s; most of them aren't very good.

What Comics Will Be Included?
Over the years Marvel has constructed a mostly cohesive universe made up of tens of thousands of stories.  To my mind, every comic they've ever published takes place in Marvel continuity, unless it's specifically excluded, or contains something that rules it out definitively.  The westerns count.  The romance books count.  I even count Marvel's Star Wars comics: they do take place, after all, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

For the purpose of this blog, I have to be a bit more discerning, because I can't cover everything.  The books I'm going to deal with are those specifically set in the Marvel Universe, beginning with Fantastic Four #1.  In the beginning, that will mostly be the super-hero books, but later will branch into a number of different genres.  If a title is specifically set in the MU, and published after Fantastic Four #1, I'll cover it.

There may be some comics that, while they technically meet all the criteria for inclusion, I will be leaving out.  I'm thinking here of Millie the Model and Patsy Walker, who are a part of Marvel continuity, but whose stories have no bearing or relevance to anything on the super-hero side of things.  The number of titles they appeared in, and the lack of relevance to anything super-hero related, means that I'll only cover them tangentially.  The westerns are another genre that I'll probably steer clear of, again due to volume and lack of interest.

Regarding the super-hero comics of the Golden Age (the 1930s to the 1950s), I'll cover any that are reprinted in a comic published post-1961.  I'm happy to do entries for them as they come up, I just don't want to have to deal with to decades worth of them before I get to the stuff I really want to write about.

How Long Will I Be Doing This?
With the number of comics set in the Marvel Universe, and the rate that they are still being published, I could do an entry a day for the rest of my life and I'd only be scratching the surface.  I know this is an impossible task, but I don't care.  I'm just going to plug away at it, get as far as I can, and not stress out about it.  I'll cover what I cover.

So that's the blog, and what I plan to do with it.  I should be back soon with a quick history of Marvel Comics up to 1961, followed by some short bios of the most important Marvel creators at the time.  Then it's on to the real meat, and the place it all began: Fantastic Four #1.

Monday, August 29, 2016

"And From That Moment The World Would Never Again Be The Same" - The Beginning

It begins in 1982, with a boy.  He's almost four years old, but it's not important who he is, or where he lives.  His mum has taken him shopping, as she does every Friday afternoon.  He's standing in front of the magazine rack at the newsagency, and while he's not important, and where he lives is not important, what he holds in his hands will become very important to him.

The cover is mostly black.  The boy recognises Spider-Man from the television.  Spider-Man is about to punch someone, which is strange, because Spider-Man never punches anyone on TV.  Behind him, silhouetted in a door frame. is a man wearing a strange vest and buccaneer boots, with a pistol in each hand.  He's saying something, but the boy can't read the words.  He knows they're important, though.  He begs his mum, and is allowed to take it home with him.

He can't read the pages inside, so he looks at the pictures instead.  He sees Peter Parker, Spider-Man's alter ego, singing with a lot of old people.  He sees a strangely dressed man riding a flying bicycle, and shooting flames at Spider-Man with his umbrella.  He sees that the silhouetted figure from the cover is an old man, with grey hair and a wrinkled face.  Spider-Man is turned into an old man as well, for a little while.  The boy can't read the story, but the images make him feel uneasy.  There's something strange and unfathomable here.  This is for me, he thinks.  This is for me when I'm older.  He pulls out a red texta and scribbles over all of the faces.  And every Friday, when he goes to the shops with his mum, he buys another one.

It begins in 1939, with a magazine publisher.  He is 31 years old.  His name is Martin Goodman, he works in the McGraw Building on Manhattan's West 42nd Street , and he has just published his first comic book.  On the cover is a man made out of flame who is melting through the door of a bank vault to pounce on a criminal.  Inside this comic, the flaming man runs amok in New York, torching everything he comes near, while elsewhere in the book two deep sea divers are murdered by a strange undersea prince with wings on his ankles.  Martin sells a lot of these comics, and decides to make more.

It begins again in 1991, with the same boy.  He is twelve years old, and it's still not important who he is, or where he lives.  He has just finished reading a stack of comics that he borrowed from a friend.  In those comics a bald man just had his legs shattered in psychic battle with an entity representing all of man's darkest urges.  A man with knives coming out of his hands just fought another man who can throw exploding playing cards.  I'm going to read these forever, he thinks.

It begins in 1961, with a writer.  Or is it an artist?  Nobody is quite certain.  One of them is 38, the other is 43.  Their names are Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and they work on Madison Avenue in Manhattan.  They have just created a new comic book.  The cover is dominated by a huge green monster, and looks like a lot of the other comics they have collaborated on.  The inside is different, though.  On the inside, four people fly a rocket into space where they are bombarded by mysterious cosmic rays.  They return to Earth with with fantastic powers.  One can stretch bis body to amazing lengths, and another can turn invisible.  One can burst into flame, just like a certain character from 1939.  The last becomes a monster, and is consumed with bitterness and rage.  Stan and Jack keep making these comics, because it's their job.  Very soon, it will become something else entirely.

It begins with one story, and with thousands of others.  It spans from 1939 to the present day, and from before the birth of the universe until its myriad endings.  It may be the largest, most complex fictional creation of all time.

This is the story of the Marvel Universe, and how it unfolds, year by year, and issue by issue.