Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Marvel and DC: Side-by-Side in 1962


Doug: Even though it's only been a week since the last Side-by-Side extravaganza, consider this new territory as today we embark on a journey through what many term the Silver Age of Comics. However, the advent of the Silver Age is significantly different temporally at the Big Two. At DC, change was afoot in 1956 with the release of Showcase #4 and the all-new Flash. Most folks will say the release of Fantastic Four #1 in 1961 brought the Silver Age to the House of Ideas. We've decided to pick things up in 1962, simply for the sake of having some familiar things to discuss. Whilst you'd recognize DC, Marvel's emergence would come along just a bit more slowly. As we've been doing, our sole resources are The Marvel Chronicle and the DC Comics Year-by-Year coffee table books, and both of those books use cover dates (not publication dates) to mark time. As you've done in the past, feel free to contribute other anecdotes, memories, or general information that we don't happen to mention.

Doug: As we usually do, we'll lead off with some "real world" happenings. In January, the first subway without a crew aboard debuted in New York City, and in April West Side Story won the Best Picture Oscar, while The Manchurian Candidate, Lawrence of Arabia, and To Kill a Mockingbird were also in the theaters.
In political issues, the South African government arrested Nelson Mandela in August, charging him with "incitement to rebellion"; in October, James Meredith became the first black student to register (with the help of federal marshals) at the University of Mississippi. Also in 1962, the first transatlantic television broadcast took place via the Telstar satellite, the Cuban Missile Crisis cooled off, and Andy Warhol's exhibit of Campbell's tomato soup cans was on exhibit in West Hollywood. And Marilyn Monroe died.

Karen: It was a dynamic time for the world. The old ways were starting to be challenged. Marvel fits perfectly in this year.

Doug: As we stated above, we are beginning in 1962 so we're not simply talking about monsters, etc. at Marvel.
DC already had a 5-year lead when Fantastic Four #1 came out, so in fairness we're putting a little ground under Marvel's feet before we start discussing. Which company do you think will have the upper hand by the time we get to the bottom of this post? I think you'll find this to be a great era coming from both companies. One note that may also justify our dividing line would be the fact that comics went from a price of 10c to 12c in 1962. Do you suppose fans were as up in arms as I recall being when they rose to 30c from a quarter?

Doug: I want to go on record right now and state that as a Marvel Zombie, I am going to have a hard time being objective in this report. Just sayin'. I'm going to depend on some of you DC-types to keep me in line.

Karen: Same for me. My problems with Silver Age DC have been voiced before on the blog. But I'll try to be objective.

Doug: January was significant in the Superman universe, as Kara Zor-el was unveiled to the public in Action Comics #285. No longer her cousin's "secret weapon",
Supergirl was now free to move about in her own right. In February, Aquaman earned a solo title, over 20 years after making his debut. Creators George Kashdan and Nick Cardy steered the King of the Seven Seas' adventures. The story introduced the magical water sprite, Quisp. Funny -- as a Bronze Age Baby, I remember Quisp as a cereal character! In the same month the origin of the Justice League of America was told in JLA #9. Over at Marvel, a certain Dr. Henry Pym showed up in Tales to Astonish #27, albeit not in uniform. "The Man in the Ant Hill" was brought to us by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby -- you know we'll be hearing from those guys pretty regularly. That same month one of Marvel's long running alien races debuted in Fantastic Four #2, as the Skrulls menaced our new heroes. Funny that they would not be heard from again until the end of the decade. In March the FF got their familiar blue costumes, and the first Fantasticar was introduced in FF #3 -- the first issue to bear the bravado "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!"

Karen: It's surprising that Aquaman never had his own title prior to this. I always think of him as being a pretty big deal at DC in the 60s, but perhaps that perception is based more on his appearance on the Super-Friends cartoon in the 70s than anything else.

Karen: At one time I had a copy of Tales to Astonish #27 (inherited from my uncle) but I sold it during a rough patch for $300. Ouch. I do think it is interesting that Pym went from what should have been a one-shot appearance in a monster mag to becoming a super-hero. Many of Marvel's characters seemed to be influenced in some degree by the sci fi and monster films of the 50s and 60s. Pym was surely somewhat a product of "The Incredible Shrinking Man" just as the Hulk was a combination of Frankenstein, The Amazing Colossal Man, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Doug: As Spring arrived, so did the Metal Men, in the pages of Showcase #37. Robert Kanigher wrote the words and Ross Andru drew the pictures, and readers were treated to a fresh take on robots.
With science fiction an important genre both in print and at the movies (and on television, for that matter), the Metal Men capitalized on the idea of artificial intelligence. These were not your father's robots, though; no, the Metal Men were androids who could think and feel, and a year later earned their own title. In May the villain Abra Cadabra debuted in Flash #128, and more significantly (especially to more recent events at DC) Dr. Light was introduced in JLA #12. Marvel countered in the pre-summer months by unleashing their version of a modern Frankenstein Monster and calling him the Incredible Hulk. Running only six issues initially, the Jade Giant has nonetheless become one of Marvel's most recognized characters. The Hulk bowed in May, the same month that Stan Lee brought the Golden Age Sub-Mariner to the present in FF #4. Interestingly, Namor was revived by the modern version of his old nemesis, the Human Torch.

Karen: The Metal Men have always intrigued me, as they almost seem like they'd fit in better at Marvel. The Hulk was a character t
hat seemed to have trouble finding an audience initially. Perhaps fans were not ready for a monster as a hero? The Thing would seem to have broken that ground, but he was part of a team. The Hulk was decidedly an anti-hero from the beginning, nearly causing as much trouble as the enemies he fought. Funny to think that he was without a home of his own for some time, until he joined Giant-Man in Tales to Astonish.

Doug: The DC book makes only one mention of events in the summer months, with July's Atom #1 by Gardner Fox and Gil Kane (for my money, some of Kane's best work was at DC on the Atom as well as Green Lantern), so we'll end it with the last reference they make -- October's Green Lantern #16 and the introduction of Star Sapphire. In reality, she was GL's girlfriend Carol Ferris, proving once again how dumb superheroes and their girlfriends can be. Marvel had maybe, just maybe, a bit better of a summertime with the debuts of Dr. Doom in July (FF #5) and the Amazing Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15 (August). The Mighty Thor also hit the stands in a book cover-dated August, in Journey Into Mystery #83. Now I know we are looking back on this through the lens of history, but it would be difficult to imagine that Marvel's fresh new look wasn't just a bit eye-grabbing. Maybe I'm wrong, though -- after all, it did take Marvel the better part of a decade to supplant DC's lead in market share. To close the summer months, Ant-Man got a costume in Tales to Astonish #35 in September, the same month that we saw the first Marvel super-villain team-up. In FF #6, Dr. Doom convinced Namor to ally with him against the Fantastic Four.

Karen: I wish I could have experienced that amazing burst of creativity as Marvel put out one new character after another. Dr. Doom, Spider-Man, Thor - all within a few months of each other!

Doug: As the year ended, the DC book doesn't give us much beyond the aforementioned intro. of Star Sapphire. In Marvel's now-exploding universe, Loki debuted in
Journey Into Mystery #85 in October. Alicia Masters was introduced in FF #8 in November, the same month that a new Two-Gun Kid debuted in Two-Gun Kid #60.

Doug: You know what we have here from Marvel? Freedom. Freedom to do whatever they wanted. Shoot, the company was almost bankrupt, so freedom to fail was all they had left. And boy, did they take it and run.

Karen: It's really not fair to compare the two companies this year, as DC had reached a nice, stable point and Marvel was just being born. Come about 1965 or so, I think the comparisons will be on a more even playing field.

NOTE: If the font seems like it's all over the place in this post, I think we can chalk it up to the Blogger demons at work again. We hope it's not too distracting! Thanks.


david_b said...

Doug, Karen, thank you for taking us back to our Silver roots here..

A big lover of comics since the Marvel Super Heroes cartoons of the '60s, I'm still amazed that I don't have more comics (I've been keeping them just under 300..), but I'm proud to announce I own a Fine copy of FF#13, probably my oldest comic, from the Kennedy era..

Freedom..? If you compare artistic styles, seeing the rough likes of Ditko and Stone drawing/inking these pages, you can just imagine the difference kids saw between Marvel and the comparatively smoother, sleeker drawings at DC.

Granted, a lot of Marvel's origin had to do with horror/monster mags, so watching the slow integration of superhero titles is always fun to review.

Makes you wonder, 'Just what did young readers come to expect from Marvel in that first year or so..?'

Whatever it was.., it sure kept them coming back.

William said...

Karen and Doug: Marvel wins this year hands down. With the introduction of Spider-Man, Hulk, Doc Doom, Ant-Man, etc. In fact, I'll go out on a limb and say that Marvel winds the entire decade. The fact that they had Kirby and Ditko alone puts them over the top. I mean, those covers you used in your article of Ant-Man and Thor, etc. are just so dynamic compared to the ho-hum DC stuff.

Doug: Hate to mention it, but I noticed an error in one of your comments. You said that after their introduction in FF #2 that the Skrulls weren't seen again until the end of the decade. Which I would assume you mean 1968/69. But the Skrulls actually returned in FF #18 (1963), when they sent the Super Skrull to Earth to take out the FF. Then they showed up again in issue #37 (1965) when the FF traveled to the Skrull throne world in "Behold A Distant Star".

Doug said...

William --

Duly noted, and my apologies. I was thinking when I typed that about the Super Skrull, and that he must have been Silver Age. But I was admittedly lazy and didn't do the research.

However, if I was going to be a know-it-all smarty-pants, I'd say that I was referring to the three cows that ended FF #2. It was that group who were the subject of the famous Neal Adams splash page "Three Cows Shot Me Down!", uttered by the Vision. But that's not what I meant, so consider yourself BAB No-Prized!


Inkstained Wretch said...

Hmmm … Any “DC v. Marvel in the Silver Age” contest is going to be Marvel by landslide for most aficionados since most will regard Stan n' Jack n' Steve n' friends as more creative by far in that decade.

That’s kind of odd when you think about it though because DC had some of the best artists of the decade doing some of the most innovative work in the field at that time.

I mean, look at the roll call at DC: Gil Kane came into his own with his brilliant work on Green Lantern and the Atom, Carmine Infanto did his classic work with the Flash, Joe Kubert had his celebrated run on Hawkman and various WWII titles, Bruno Premiani perfected his naturalist style in Doom Patrol and, later in the decade, Neal Adams had his breakthrough with Deadman. There are a few others I am probably forgetting too.

DC’s problem was that it was editorially stodgy. I am certain the editors thought: “The various Superman and Batman titles were selling a half million or more copies a month with these silly fantasy stories and slick art, so why mess with the formula?”

So while the lesser titles were allowed to experiment, the flagship titles stagnated. (I know some people love Curt Swan, but he does nothing for me.) There was no continuity, very little sense of connection with the other characters or titles and none of the overarching vision that Stan Lee bought to Marvel.

DC in the 1960s is a case study in how things can go wrong when you’re seemingly on top of the world.

Sean Strange said...

This should be fun. I'm a Marvel kid too, but it's interesting to look back at the early Marvels and realize that they were really B comics, unpolished and crude compared to DC. I think Doug nailed it: Marvel had nothing to lose at this point, so their willingness to try new things was their only advantage over DC.

What I don’t understand is why this kind of creative explosion hasn’t been duplicated in 50 years. Why can’t someone create a whole new comic universe from scratch and gain a following like Marvel did? Is the comic book medium just played out? When you have this kind of duopoly for so long, so much creative baggage after so many years of work, and both companies run by bean counters who are just squeezing money out of their creative legacies, it makes me sad. Where are today’s Stan Lees and Jack Kirbys? Just like in 1962, we need fresh ideas and a whole new universe!

david_b said...


Interesting concept, but not as cut/dry as you would suggest.

It's been done. Perhaps not as successfully, but much like the music industry back 40yrs ago, it was less complicated, with limited outlets, allowing biggies like the Fabs and Beach Boys to dominate. Since the 70s, you have a multitude of different markets, small players, corporates, multiple lines of access (internet, press, movies), you name it. Yet, acts like U2 break through.

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, Marvel tried 'New Universe'. Fell flat. Atlas and numerous other companies have made their mark and left. There's limited interest or value in the smaller independents.

Exceptions..? Of course. Teenage Mutant Turtles were around a few years, gained some influential readers, reaped movies and merchandising contracts.

You have to create demand. That was always my argument to my step-dad about how 'lousy the economy is'..: If the economy is so lousy, explain 'Harry Potter'. Demand was created and became popular.

So aside from my soapbox.., creativity still reigns, some profit, some don't. For every Marvel & DC Comics (or Beatles, for that matter), there were dozens that were 'one-hit wonders' or otherwise didn't make it. We just don't hear about them.

J.A. Morris said...

Sean wrote:
"What I don’t understand is why this kind of creative explosion hasn’t been duplicated in 50 years."

My guess is money.

I remember reading an article during the Marv Wolfman v. Marvel lawsuit, it mentioned how there hasn't been a character like(or as popular) Spider-Man created at Marvel/DC in years. The theory was that will millions of dollars involved, no one wanted to "give" Marvel a character like that under a "work for hire" contract. And it's been pointed out by many that after a certain point, Kirby stopped creating major characters at Marvel.
And I haven't heard about too many characters "created by committee" either. You know, how Wolverine was created by Wein, Trimpe, Romita, among others.
I'm sure I'm simplifying it a bit, but that has to be part of the problem. Kirby, Dillin, Ditko, Ayers, Colan, Swan, Wood, Kane etc had no idea comic book characters would become billion $ properties. Then they saw a few guys get rich while they didn't. Thank goodness that Neal Adams and Jerry Robinson made sure creators got something starting in the 1970s.

Fred W. Hill said...

1962 is a great year to start with as I made my debut in June of that year! As a Marvel afficianado, I've read most of their superhero output for 1962 but all I know of DC's contemporaneous product is what I've just read here. I remember liking the Metal Men when I was a wee tyke and Hawkman's mask looked so cool, but otherwise most DC comics bored me even as I was smitten by Marvel.
As to Marvel's output, interestingly in 1957 Kirby drew, and perhaps wrote, a short story published in DC's Tales of the Unexpected, about a guy who finds "A Magic Hammer" that gave him the powers of Thor! The character didn't turn into Thor, but he was able to conjure up rain and lightning, and Thor himself, with a big bushy beard and four discs on his tunic. Probably a good thing that DC didn't do anything with the concept and it was left for Kirby to revise it for Marvel in 1962, where it would become their 2nd longest running superhero series, after the FF, at least until it was cancelled however long ago that was. Of course, Spidey would go on to overtake Thor in that 2nd spot, as well as getting his own title quicker than any of the other characters who started off in the old mystery mags. But for 1962 budding Spidey-fans had to be satisfied with that appearance in Amazing Fantasy and beseiging Stan with letters to bring him back already.
And fancy Subby, the original comics anti-hero, making his big return at about the same time the Hulk, his later co-star in Tales to Astonish and fellow Defender made his first appearance.
The Hulk seemed to fit in more with the monster mags that dominated Marvel's roster then; seemed Stan was playing a bit coy about really getting back in to the superhero line, especially considering that the FF's costumes looked more like jumpsuits than typical superhero attire.
Must have been a fascinating period for those who were paying attention as the Marvel Universe was being born.

teresarollins said...

For DC this was a tough time. When you look at these stories they read like they are a part of the 1950s. DC had some very difficult days ahead in the 60s as they scrambled to catch up to Marvel.


This is also around the time DC started exploring the multiverse idea. That was very creative and an area that Marvel couldnt compete.
I love the DC multiverse and was crushed by the origianl Crisis.

dbutler16 said...

I think the 60’s will be pretty one sided for me in terms of Marvel vs. DC. While I love lots of DC’s Bronze Age offerings – Legion of Super-Heroes, JLA, Batman, Detective, Secret Society of Super-Villains, New Teen Titans – I find almost all of the 60’s offerings was too campy. Sure, they definitely have their value as fun reading, and are historically significant, but it seems to me that Marvel started writing their comics for audiences other than 10 year old boys way before DC did. The only 60’s DC comic that I can recommend is Adventure Comics, though to be fair, I’ve read very little Flash, Atom, & Green Lantern comics from the 60’s. Definitely, as Karen points out, a side by side offering of Marvel vs. DC right here isn’t totally fair, as just about everything Marvel puts out at this point is a character’s first appearance.
I totally agree with Karen on Aquaman, I was surprised to find out how little he’s had his own title, but I’d always thought of him as an A-lister because of his appearance on the Superfriends. I can also feel her pain about selling TTA #27 during a rough patch, as I once parted with Giant Size X-Men #1 under similar circumstances! I finally bought another one on ebay a couple of years ago, during a time of plenty.
Dr. Light always seemed to me like someone who was incredibly powerful, but never really taken seriously, for some reason. Maybe it’s the name.
Nowadays, it’s hard to believe that Superman related titles and Archie dominated the sales charts in the 60’s.

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