Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Marvel and DC: Side-by-Side in 1963


Doug: As we saw in our discussion of "last year", the increase in price of a standard comic book from 10c to 12c had, believe it or not, repercussions in the market. Both Marvel and DC felt the need to be cutting edge, as fans became a bit more fickle with their money. Anthology books were on the way out, and were often replaced with super-heroes. In the real world, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the famous "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August, and in November President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. In less significant events, Roy Lichtenstein ushered in the "Pop Art" movement, and the smiley face appeared for the first time. In America, zip codes came into use, and Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tershkova became the first woman in space.

Doug: January featured a first for popular super-hero comics when a major character met his demise. Legion of Super-Heroes founding member Lightning Lad was killed in action by Zaryan the Conqueror while trying to save Saturn Girl. This was in the pages of Adventure Comics #304; the death didn't last long, however, as LL returned later the same year in Adventure #312. Just goes to show you, this whole dead/alive/dead again thing has been around for a loooonnnngggg time! One of my favorite super-suits debuted in March when Kid Flash got a real costume instead of just a miniature version of Flash's in Flash #135.

Karen: I wonder what the reader response was to Lightning Lad's death? I don't have any Adventure Comics from that time period but I'd be curious if it really made an impact. I wonder if the existence of so many Legionnaires might have diluted it for the fans?

Doug: Makes you think, doesn't it, given all of the circumstances surrounding comic book deaths in our era.

Doug: In January at Marvel, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby appeared in
Fantastic Four #10, squarely placing the Marvel Universe in our universe. Unlike DC's fictional cities of Metropolis, Gotham City, Central City, and Star City, Marvel's characters lived in places we could identify on a map. A month later, in FF #11, the Impossible Man debuted -- Bronze Age Babies know ol' Impy from his appearance in FF #176. But the biggest new creation from the House of Ideas early in 1963 came out of Tales of Suspense #39 -- the Invincible Iron Man! Brought to us by a Stan Lee plot, Larry Lieber's words and Don Heck's pencils, the Golden Avenger was initially colored gray. March also gave us the formation of the Teen Brigade in Incredible Hulk #6, Greenskin's final issue, and how about a self-titled mag for the Amazing Spider-Man? The Marvel Chronicle states, in fact, that Hulk was canceled to make way for Spidey's mag on the shipping schedule. How 'bout them apples?

Karen: Hulk would take a little longer to find his audience. But you'll note that while he was homeless he would pop up in a number of titles, such as Avengers, Journey Into Mystery, and Amazing Spider-Man. Lee certainly wasn't giving up on the Green Goliath!

Doug: I do find it interesting that a character who was initially a sales failure is perhaps Marvel's second-most recognizable commodity over the past 40 years or so. Obviously the television show of the late 1970's did wonders for the Hulk's public perception prevalence. Someone remarked the other day that the deluge of Marvel movies of late simply could not have been carried out prior to today's CGI effects. The Hulk was one character who worked on the small screen.

Doug: As the Spring began, DC published what may have been its first licensed story. The comic adaptation of the Ian Fleming story "Dr. No" ran in
Showcase #43, a full four months before the U.S. release of the 007 film of the same name. I think it turned out OK for all involved... Another huge Silver Age hit for DC (we mentioned the Metal Men last time 'round) debuted in June when the Doom Patrol headlined in My Greatest Adventure #80; this was an example of heroes replacing monsters and mystery in the anthology titles. The Doom Patrol was created by Arnold Drake, Bob Haney, and Bruno Premiani. In only six more issues, My Greatest Adventure would be retitled The Doom Patrol. Also in June, Green Lantern's foe Doctor Polaris made his first appearance in GL #21.

Karen: Like the Metal Men, I always thought the Doom Patrol could have fit comfortably into the Marvel Universe. They were not perfect super-heroes; each was a freak in some sense, even Elasti-Girl. Of course, there have been many comparisons between the Doom Patrol and the X-Men, some of which are valid. But the X-Men have obviously proved to be a more popular and enduring concept.

Doug: Spring at Marvel gave us the Watcher (FF #13) and Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos in the eponymous #1. Both books came to the reader from the partnership of Lee and Kirby. Also in May the Vulture appeared in ASM #2 and in June the Radioactive Man (JIM #93) and the Mad Thinker (FF #15) both debuted. The Watcher would be a great nominee for Karen's "lesser characters" Open Forum of last week!

Karen: No kidding, old Uatu has appeared in so many books over the years, standing around looking mysterious mostly. He might have got his best showing in the trial of the Watcher storyline in Captain Marvel back in the 70s.

Doug: In DC history, there may not have been a more significant event in terms of shaping the succeeding 25 years than Justice League of America #'s 21-22. After 1961's Flash #123 and the reintroduction of the Golden Age Flash, it was only a matter of time until DC's editors (led by Silver Age visionary Julius Schwartz) got both speedsters' teams together. The story that began in August 1963 was penned by Gardner Fox, who also wrote the adventures of the JSA in the Golden Age. "Crisis on Earth-One!" and "Crisis on Earth-Two!" featured the first use of the terms "Crisis" and the designations Earth-1 and Earth-2. Having just reviewed the events and fall-out of Crisis on Infinite Earths two short weeks ago, I think we can say this started innocently enough. As many of us remarked several days ago, perhaps there wasn't a problem at all with this and it should have been left alone. In my opinion, the multiverse was part of the charm of DC Comics. To finish out the summer, Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash, debuted in Flash #139. As I wasn't even born at this time, I really can't testify to the significance of Flash, but going from our source book I'd have to say the magazine was a major player in DC's Silver Age history.

Karen: The JLA/JSA cross-overs were always a summer treat, even for this Marvel devotee. What's not to like, when you've got around 20 super-heroes in one book? It was a great idea.

Doug: Summer at Marvel showed no signs of a let-up in terms of creativity, nor in terms of the foundational elements of the Marvel Universe. In July the Wasp and Doc Ock hit the stands in Tales to Astonish #44 and ASM #3, respectively. Oh, yeah -- there was another intro. that month. A fella by the name of Stephen Strange pushed the two mystery stories that had accompanied the main Human Torch feature aside. Strange Tales #110 began another 2-for-1 book when Dr. Strange shared billing with the Torch. One issue later, Strange's major baddie, Baron Mordo, was introduced. To close out the summer, two team books that would dominate the 2000's and the
1990's, respectively, were released. Avengers #1 featured Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, and Ant-Man and the Wasp in a superstar Marvel offering to rival DC's JLA. At the same time, the X-Men gave us the popular use of the term "mutants" and ushered in a bit of a civil rights theme to comics. The Sandman also bowed in September, in ASM #4.

Karen: What a summer! I can hardly imagine how cool it must have been to get both Avengers #1 and X-Men #1 just a short time apart. The creative stew was boiling over at Marvel! As an aside, my husband and I were discussing the latest trailer for X-Men: First Class, and noted the appearance of the US intelligence community in the clip. It reminded me that the early X-Men had an FBI liaison, Fred Duncan. That seems so odd now, considering how much the X-Men have gone it alone over the years. I guess considering the context of the times it made more sense -they were trying to fit in, to prove they were on the right side.

Doug: To finish what has been an exciting year for both companies, Marvel launched the "Tales of Asgard" feature as a back-up in Journey Into Mystery #97. Ant-Man became Giant-Man in Tales to Astonish #49, moving out of the Atom's shadow. In ASM #6 the Lizard was introduced, and in a try-out of sorts, Stan decided to introduce a bogus Captain America in Strange Tales #114. And lastly, the Sub-Mariner was crowned King of Atlantis in Fantastic Four Annual #1, ushering in a whole new world and mythos for the Avenging Son, as well as the summer tradition of Marvel's big books.

Karen: The "Tales of Asgard" strip was such an inspired idea. Those short stories did so much to build up Thor's universe and make it a rich resource for later creators. The move from Ant-Man to Giant-Man could be seen as Pym's response to being in a group with Thor, Iron Man, and the Hulk. Hanging around with those three could certainly crush one's ego! But I'm sure the reality of it was an attempt on the part of Marvel to spice up the character by making him more versatile. There's only so many stories you can do with a bug-sized protagonist. Unfortunately for Ant/Giant-Man, in a few years he'd have to share his book with the Hulk, and then get shoved out of it entirely as the Sub-Mariner came on board! Poor guy, he's the Rodney Dangerfield of Marvel -can't get no respect!

Doug: I want to make somewhat of a clarification on all of the gushing I've been doing toward Marvel. As I'm writing, I'm just in awe of Marvel's output, and how close together all of these important introductions were. But then I stopped and pinched myself... I intentionally included the cover above to Tales to Astonish #49 as a way of reminding myself, and informing you, of just how lame Marvel Comics were in 1963. I've said in the past that in regard to Marvel's Masterworks or Essentials collections, I wouldn't recommend that any new True Believer read any of the Essentials that are a Volume One edition. I've argued that none of Marvel's titles at the beginning of their Silver Age hit their strides until around the second year of publication. You want painful? Don't believe me? Try on the earliest issues of the Torch's solo series, or Thor in Journey Into Mystery. Baaad stuff, my friends. See for yourself...

Karen: You won't get an argument from me, pal. I remember getting the Marvel Masterworks with the first 20 issues of X-Men and being bored to tears with it. The early Avengers tales were a little better but there were some clunkers in there too. Ditto with the FF. Lee, Kirby, and the crew were still finding their way. I imagine switching gears from short horror or monster stories to full length super-hero stories might have been a bit difficult at first. But despite the flaws, the building blocks of greatness are there.


Edo Bosnar said...

As a diehard child of the Bronze Age, I really agree with your point about the quality of Silver Age storytelling (both at Marvel and DC) in that early period. However, for me there's an exception: Spider-man and Dr. Strange (I guess anything drawn by Ditko, which he was apparently co-plotting at the very least). There may be some occasional silliness, but they are never boring.

Inkstained Wretch said...

Yeah, Marvel didn't really hit its stride until the middle part of the 60s. Poor Jack Kirby was drawing, what, 8 titles a month in those early days? It is impressive that the stuff is as good as it is given the deadline pressure he must have been facing, but the classics didn't come until later.

Inkstained Wretch said...

Regarding that Dr. No Showcase story, apparently publishing it gave DC the rights to do a James Bond comic ... and they never bothered!

This was in the 60s when James bond was a real craze. The people at DC seem to have literally forgot they had the rights.

dbutler16 said...

I agree with you about the Kid Flash’s uniform. I’ve always loved the Flash’s uni, and Kid Flash’s seems like a nice tribute to it without being a clone.
I was never into the Hulk too much as a youngster, but I’d have to agree that he was probably the #2 most recognizable Marvel character for quite a while.
The JLA/JSA team-ups were always among my favorite JLA issues. Fun stuff!
I’ve long thought that 1963 was the most important year in comics history, largely because my two favorite titles – The Avengers and The X-Men – started that year. There were a few other pretty cool things going on that year too, though!
What, the Living Eraser isn’t great stuff? Yeah, I think that the Silver Age up until about the mid 60’s is mostly lame, though still historically very important.

The Groovy Agent said...

I'm not Marvel or DC, but I was born in '63!

I always thought it was cool to be born the same year as the Avengers and the X-Men made their debuts!

david_b said...

I was also born in '63, and yes it was a year to CELEBRATE..!! Great titles came forth and given a year of nurturing, captivated us to no end.

Kid Flash's outfit was always one of my all-time favorites. Beautiful design and fit the Titans perfectly. Like Speedy and Wondergirl, it complimented the mentor's outfit perfectly.

Although my vintage comic collection is very small and humble, compared with everyone else's I'm sure, I'm proud to have picked up a nice Fine copy of FF#13.. Just a beautiful cover.

J.A. Morris said...

I agree with everyone about how bad & corny the early Marvel stories can be. The one thing that Don's 'Marvel Genesis' blog shows in almost every summary he posts. Some "classics" don't feel so classic when you read them. And it doesn't help when half the villains are from Marvel's Kartoon Kommie Korps.

But I'm with Edo, Ditko's Spider-man stories are all worthwhile. I recently read some of those stories for the first time in years, the fight-scenes are still amazing, so the series deserved its title! Having said that, I still wouldn't recommend the early Ditko issues to anyone but the hardest core fans. My wife recently read ASM Masterworks Vol. 4, she liked it.

david_b said...

Yes, I'm getting through the Spidey MasterWorks 2&3 now. The Ditko art is a bit wonky, but the early writing and setting up of the supporting cast was very well-done.

What I especially LOVE are all the Marvel Pin-ups (both Rogues Gallery and heroes..) they used to feature. As mentioned before, those are gems they did away with in the Bronze Age which made the Silver so memorable.. To me, seeing them on glossy pages are easily worth the price of the book.

I know they were done a few times in some 70s issues, but most of the time it was only reprints.

J.A. Morris said...

Doug wrote:
"January featured a first for popular super-hero comics when a major character met his demise."
Sorry in advance for this digression/hijacking:
This reminded me of a childhood friend who got me interested in comics. He was a smart kid, great student, but whenever someone "died" in comics, he always believed it.

For instance, he declared that we couldn't play with the Mego Joker doll because "Joker's dead. Yeah. There was a story last year where there was an explosion, and Batman came out of the smoke holding a piece of his purple coat. So he's dead."
He also believed Colossus died in that stupid Deathbird story in UXM#155.
I never bought "comic book deaths", except Phoenix.

Fred W. Hill said...

Gotta agree there were a high degree of clunkers in Marvel's output for the first couple of years but by 1964 the stories were getting much better in most titles, although from what little I've read of them, the Human Torch half of Strange Tales continued to be dreadful all the way until it was replaced by Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. in 1965.
Recently, btw, I read that based on the popularity of the FF & Spidey, Lee's boss, Martin Goodman, ordered him to come up with a couple of knockoffs which were supposed to have come out in the same month -- mainly, the X-Men and ...Daredevil! Bill Everett was unable to finish the art for DD on time, however, so they wound up filling that slot with a hastily conceived Avengers. If true, the contrasts between the "originals" and the "knock-offs" is striking -- yeah, the X-Men were in matching uniforms, just like the FF, but while the FF has one kid and several adults, the X-Men had one adult and several kids. Similarly, the high school kid Spidey is contrasted with a college grad., professionally employed DD. At least Stan avoided some horrible possible spinoffs such as making Flash Thompson into the latest teenage superhero, or having the Teen Brigade somehow gain superpowers!
As to whether the similarities between the Doom Patrol & the X-Men were pure coincidence or the result of some underhanded corporate sneakiness, we'll probably never know for sure, although when their main opponents both include the name "Brotherhood", it seems highly likely something weird is going on. As for the actual stories, I've never read those early D.P.'s, and, yeah, those first several X-Men stories were rather monotonous, but at least they got several notches better with the first Juggernaut and Sentinels stories.
And those early issues of Spider-Man were easily the best Marvel was putting out in 1963 and '64, although by '65 Kirby's work on the FF & Thor was taking off to some glorious heights.

Roygbiv666 said...

Re. Fred Hill's comment:
"As to whether the similarities between the Doom Patrol & the X-Men were pure coincidence or the result of some underhanded corporate sneakiness, we'll probably never know for sure, although when their main opponents both include the name "Brotherhood", it seems highly likely something weird is going on. As for the actual stories, I've never read those early D.P.'s, and, yeah, those first several X-Men stories were rather monotonous, but at least they got several notches better with the first Juggernaut and Sentinels stories."

There's an interesting comparison here:

As for the early DP stories - they are funky weird and therefore awesome. Recommend the SHowcase Presents volumes.

Anonymous said...

Charlton once said (ca. 1967) that they would love to do a Conan the Barbarian comic, but they could not see how they could be faithful to the original and still pass the Comics Code. Maybe DC had a similar problem with James Bond?

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