Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Marvel and DC: Side-by-Side in 1964


Doug: By 1964, as we've seen, Marvel had introduced most of the major players that would make up their version of the Silver Age of Comics. We'll see henceforth a refinement of those character concepts, and more and more add-ons to the Marvel mythos. How will DC counter? And, what was going on in the world outside of comics? Well, in February the Beatles reached #1 in the States for the first time with I Want To Hold Your Hand. That same month Muhammad Ali won the heavyweight title for the first time. Congress approved sending American troops to Vietnam, and Hasbro drafted their own G.I. Joe. While the aforementioned Beatles swept across the world, the Rolling Stones released their first album. The Ford Mustang was introduced, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed by President Johnson, and Dr. Martin Luther King won the Nobel Peace Prize. At the movies, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Mary Poppins, Goldfinger, and Viva Las Vegas all played. Wow. That's quite a year!

Karen: And I was born, just to round it out to perfect!

Doug: I think that after the pummeling DC's taken in our first two years that the footing will be a bit more even in this year, although as I type that I notice that the Marvel Chronicle dedicates six pages (the normal spread is four) to this year! To kick things off, in February Adventure Comics got a new subtitle when "Featuring Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes" was added to the masthead. In Adventure #317 Dream Girl was introduced, the Time Trapper was mentioned for the first time, and Lightning Lass got new gravity-defying powers and was henceforth Light Lass. Big issue! Big-time introductions/first appearances at Marvel included the Blob (X-Men #3), Baron von Strucker (Sgt. Fury #5), Electro (Amazing Spider-Man #9), the Mandarin (Tales of Suspense #50), Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch (X-Men #4), the Enforcers (ASM #10), and some old fellow named Captain America (Avengers #4). Yep -- you could have received all of that for the hefty sum of 84c between January and March. That's really amazing -- we thought 1963 was rapid-fire from the House of Ideas, but look at that!

Karen: I love how the Scarlet Witch is wearing all green on that cover! But the re-introduction of Cap has to be the biggest event for this time period. When he was brought back in Avengers, I think Marvel had the final ingredient for their foundation: the hero all other heroes aspired to be. Maybe he hadn't quite made that impression yet, but he was well on his way to it.

Doug: File this under "I'm too lazy to look it up...": I'm referring to your comment about Wanda's green outfit as opposed to her familiar red bathing suit; was there ever a reason given why Pietro switched from his green togs to the light blue running suit?

Doug: Spring at DC saw the arrival of the "new look" Batman in Detective Comics #327. Featuring realistic (or more realistic) art by Carmine Infantino, as well as modification on the cowl and bat-insignia, the title now moved away from the silly aliens and imaginary stories in an effort to stave off cancellation. I guess it worked... In June, to further show that the creators meant business, Alfred met his demise. Detective Comics #328 also gave us the introduction of Dick Grayson's Aunt Harriet. You know what? A couple of weeks ago we discussed the Batman television show. Most of our commenters seemed to have a soft spot for it now; I'd argue Aunt Harriet was worse than any campy villains or "Pow! Biff!" that took place on that show.

Karen: Was Detective really close to being canceled? That's shocking. Regarding Aunt Harriet on the TV show at least, I'd always heard she was there almost as a chaperone, because the TV people were concerned about what people might think of a grown man living with a teen-aged boy who was not his son. I didn't realize she appeared in the comics first. Perhaps it was for the same reason?

Doug: Well, we know that Frederic Wertham referenced the Dynamic Duo in his rantings and ravings... Check out this panel, albeit from 1954; I guess perhaps stuff like this was still on someone's mind when Aunt Harriet came on the scene.

Doug: It's interesting that two characters who will forever be linked in most of our Bronze Age brains were introduced in the same month -- April gave us the 1st appearance of the Black Widow in Tales of Suspense #52, albeit as a villainess against Iron Man, while Daredevil #1 also had an April cover date. Over in Journey Into Mystery #103, Amora the Enchantress and her dopey yet imposing suitor the Executioner first harassed the mighty Thor. It's interesting that the Enchantress has been a major player in the Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes cartoon, 47 years after her creation.

Karen: Isn't it though? I wonder what motivated them to go with Enchantress over say some male villain instead? I do think she opens up some nice story possibilities. Black Widow is another female character with a long and checkered past, who is also a significant player in the new cartoon show.

Doug: As long as we were on the subject of heroes bedding each other (we were on that subject, you know...), I have to say that as a waif, the Black Widow getting it on with Hawkeye, DD, and Hercules (and who knows who else) really never crossed my mind. I suppose it's all there, though, huh?

Doug: As summer began, one of DC's favorite teams was introduced in the pages of The Brave and the Bold #54: the Teen Titans. Originally consisting only of Robin, Kid Flash, and Aqualad, these youths would take on hip lingo and serve as the bastion of the generation gap. Trouble was, DC's middle-aged writers and editors never had their finger on the pulse of '60's youth like Marvel did, and often came across sounding ridiculous. Also in July Hal Jordan teamed with Katma Tui in Green Lantern #30 and the Crime Syndicate of Earth-3 was introduced in the annual JLA/JSA team-up, in Justice League of America #29.

Karen: I love the multi-generational aspect of DC heroes. Marvel has never really had that. The Teen Titans was a book I always wanted to like but never got into -that is, until the Wolfman-Perez run, which felt like a Marvel comic to me! The Crime Syndicate was another great idea, and offered some fun story ideas.

Doug: That multi-generational aspect was one of the appeals of the Invaders to me -- not that it was an inter-generational team per se, but just the concept of legacy, of history.

Doug: At Marvel Comics, the summer was just about as busy (and important) as the first six months had been. For books cover-dated July, you could have witnessed the dawning of the Green Goblin in Amazing Spider-Man #14 (which also guest-starred the Hulk) and the Masters of Evil in Avengers #6. The leader of the Masters, Baron Zemo, was a Silver Age creation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but perhaps one of the most important retcons in Marvel history -- Zemo had allegedly been a pretty important Nazi, and had claimed to have killed Bucky Barnes in the event that had plunged Captain America into an icy suspended animation. In another episode of "you shouldn't even be in the same magazine", the Grey Gargoyle first menaced Thor in Journey Into Mystery #107. To close out the summer months, September was a biggie as Kang the Conqueror debuted in Avengers #8 and our favorite archer, Hawkeye, took a bow in Tales of Suspense #57 -- also as an Iron Man villain. The Sinister Six got it on with Spidey in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 and just really two years into the Marvel Age, Stan Lee decided to get the throngs of new readers up to speed by starting a reprint series called Marvel Tales.

Karen: It's funny to think that Marvel started a reprint title just two years after their new look began! This was certainly another busy period for them. The Goblin would be a major player of course, and at this time no one -not even Lee and Ditko! -knew his true identity. I look at the Zemo-Bucky story not so much as a ret-con but as an addition to the Star Spangled Avenger's past. After all, I don't think there was ever any story that detailed Bucky's demise prior to this -in fact I think he was still appearing in the few Cap books that came out in the 50s. It was a great way to add some emotional baggage to Cap.

Doug: To close the year, Lone Wolf, later Timber Wolf, was introduced in Adventure Comics #327. Of course, it all began with a case of mistaken identity, androids, etc. Zatanna was introduced in Hawkman #4, and her quest for her missing father Zatarra begat the multi-title crossover. In a day when multi-issue stories were a rarity, that a story would stretch over multiple months and comic books was unheard of. Finally, in December Aquaman and Mera wed in Aquaman #18, an event that was of course disrupted by the villain Oceanus as well as some Atlantean laws that, as the new king, Aquaman had to circumvent.

Karen: I've always like Timber Wolf. It seems like agility-based heroes have kind of disappeared nowadays but he was among the best, at least later on when I was reading Legion. Zatanna is certainly a DC mainstay and another representative of the second generation of heroes.

Doug: Marvel went out with a bang, as the Hulk moved into October's Tales to Astonish #60 and set up shop. Again, a sales failure as a solo act, Stan attempted to latch onto the popularity of the Avengers and Giant-Man and tag along the Green Goliath. The same month, Wonder Man made his one and only appearance (at least, alive) until the Bronze Age, in Avengers #9.
In November Strange Tales #126 added two important characters to the Dr. Strange mythos with the introductions of the Dread Dormammu and Clea. Fantastic Four Annual #2 revealed the origin of Dr. Doom (as well as starting the ages-old debate about just how disfigured is Victor von Doom's face?). Captain America took residency alongside the Golden Avenger in Tales of Suspense #59. In December, Stan and Jack brought us an "untold tale" of Cap and Bucky fighting alongside Sgt. Fury and the Howlers in Sgt. Fury #13, and the Leader was introduced in Tales to Astonish #62. Lastly, and this is interesting in terms of fan interaction/evolution, the Merry Marvel Marching Society was named and explained in the letter column of Fantastic Four #33 -- Marvel was by now certainly beginning to gain ground on DC Comics.

Karen: That was a lot of universe-building going on. The split books certainly allowed more characters to gain greater exposure. This was particularly true if a character didn't seem capable of supporting his own title. Of course, Marvel was still limited in the number of titles they could publish each month, so this was a good solution. 


Anonymous said...

Superb thread, as always, but a point of order and a question....

Ref. The Hulk not selling well, actually I believe he did. The reason that he got cancelled after 6 issues and put into TTA was the reason that Karen mentions at the end. Atlas (the distribution company which is sometimes taken as the publisher of Timely/Marvel etc due to Goodman’s labyrinthine company structure) had folded and so had the other company that (not yet) Marvel did a deal with, so Goodman was forced to go cap in hand to DC, who would only let him publish a limited number of titles and only ones that didn’t compete directly with DC. Hulk was doing OK, but when the fan mail for AF#15 started arriving by the truckload, it was clear that the webslinger was a gold mine and something had to go. Temporarily at least.

Secondly....this is the question....although this has probably been retconned to the point of insanity by now....isn’t Bucky shot in the chest by the Golden Girl (Captain America #66 in 1948) who then goes on to become Cap’s partner? Or is that the replacement Bucky? Or was it supposed to be the actual Bucky at the time, but was retconned to be a different Bucky later? And is the woman shooting him on the cover of Cap #66 actually the Golden Girl...or just a different girl dressed in gold in the same issue?
Confused? You won’t be after the next episode of Doug & Karen.


david_b said...

Another point of order..:

Yes, Karen, the Batman comic was on the verge of cancellation. Per my comments on the television series, the 'new image' was a reimaging (of sorts..) away from the 'space traveling Batman' stories with really took over the early sixties. My basic argument to the TV show nay-sayers was always: 'Where were they when those outer-space adventures were running rapant..?' They were far more ridiculous than the reimaged comic (unfortunately, not some of the episodes.., I'd agree), but the point.., is that the surreal stuff on Batman started long before it hit television.

I'd disagree on Aunt Harriet's role in the series. She was the one character besides Commissioner Gordon who had a foot in reality, adding balance to the weirdness.

You need balance in comedy or the comedy doesn't play well.

J.A. Morris said...

Re:Richard's Bucky question,that was the fake Bucky Fred Davis, recruited by Pres. Truman when the real Cap & Bucky were MIA near the end of WWII. A ret-con,of course.

Speaking of Bucky,Karen wrote:
"I look at the Zemo-Bucky story not so much as a ret-con but as an addition to the Star Spangled Avenger's past. After all, I don't think there was ever any story that detailed Bucky's demise prior to this -in fact I think he was still appearing in the few Cap books that came out in the 50s. It was a great way to add some emotional baggage to Cap."
I read somewhere(sorry,can't recall where)that Stan Lee sent out a "no sidekicks" edict when the Marvel Age launched in 1961, so they couldn't bring back Bucky. But the emotional baggage was a good addition to the character. Bringing Bucky back ass the bada$$ killing machine Winter Soldier is one of the worst ret-cons of all time.

Speaking of Bucky, I've always thought his "origin" was stupid. He walks in on Rogers unmasking, ergo it's a good idea to bring an adolescent boy into battle against the SS,Nazi saboteurs and the Red Skull? Please. I know, he's just a Robin knockoff meant to appeal to kids, still dumb.

Anonymous said...

JA – I read the same thing from Stan Lee, that he just hated teenage sidekicks. I always thought that they were designed to appeal to adolescent readers (‘the boy WHO COULD BE YOU’) but actually in Martin Goodman’s day they were introduced for the purposes of exposition (‘Look out, Toro, those hoods that we’ve tracked from the diamond warehouse are over there, escaping in a 1940 Buick Century! We’d better... [insert plot here]’). With Spider Man, Lee introduced thought bubbles and did away with the need for someone to talk to.


david_b said...


Interesting comment on the prominence of 'thought balloons' by Marvel. It never occurred to me, but it makes great sense.

I always thought the original Titans comic in the Sixties was an clever idea which started out well, but suffered from growth/development pains, much like teenagers do..

Aside from the marvelous Cardy art, I loved the 'hip jargon' attempt by the middle-age editors back in the day, DC's attempt at lightness and hip styles, similar to their 'comic' comics, like Jerry Lewis, Woody Allen, etc...

I always thought the addition of Mr. Jupiter ruined the 'coming-of-age' storylines, since it was supposed to be a comic whereas the teens were on their own and made their own decisions, not depend on a grown-up. Despite his limited scope of powers on land, the comic lost some of it's warmth when Aqualad was replaced with the snarky Speedy.

Adding Mal was DC's early attempt at realism (before the traveling GL/GA series), but it was wonky at best.

Anonymous said...

IIRC, Bucky was shot by a villainess and laid up for some time, and Golden Girl filled in as Cap's sidekick in the meantime. I don't think she was the same one who shot him, but I could be wrong. And, at the time, it was intended to be the real/original Captain America and Bucky, but that had to be retconned when official Silver Age continuity was that Bucky had been killed in 1945. So What If #4 explained that the postwar Cap and Bucky were impostors. "Retconned to the point of insanity" is an excellent way to describe it.

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