Friday, April 15, 2016

Guest Review - Origins of Marvel Comics

Doug: Thomas F. is back again this week with some thoughts on a book that immediately takes me back to Christmases when I was an elementary school-aged boy. For four years in a row, Christmas morning was especially brightened by the appearance of one of Marvel's huge "Origins" books. The first to appear under my tree was actually Son of Origins of Marvel Comics, followed by the initial installment (today's subject) for my birthday in June. Then the next three years Bring On the Bad Guys, The Superhero Women, and Marvel's Greatest Superhero Battles arrived in succession. Along with Treasury Editions, these books are among the best memories outside of actual comics. Thanks, Thomas.

Origins of Marvel Comics (1974 Edition)
Stan Lee, author

Thomas F.: As may be surmised from its title, Origins of Marvel Comics reprints the classic origins of Marvel Comics’ most legendary characters. It should be noted that at the time, trade paperbacks were new on the scene.
Origins of Marvel Comics includes entertaining and informative commentary inserted prior to each origin tale, full of the quirky language, peppered with superlatives, that is so typical of Stan Lee. The introductions evoke Lee’s penchant for showmanship, a trait which made him instantly identifiable as the embodiment of all that is Marvel. Some revealing comic industry background is touched on by Lee as well, plus little tidbits of the day-to-day activities of a newly-resurgent company.

Also included in the volume are reprints that were, in 1974, still fairly recent tales. This was done in order to show the contrast between “then” (the early 1960s) and “now” (the early 1970s), and how Marvel’s comics had evolved in the span of just a decade. Naturally, the origin tales—presumably, for which the reader purchased the book in the first place—are of primary interest.

As far as I’m concerned, these vintage origin tales, though somewhat quaint and dated, are just as appealing today as they were a half-century ago, and this magical quality was infused into them by Stan Lee.

Here is a list of the reprinted contents of Origins of Marvel Comics, 1974 edition:

Fantastic Four #1 (Origin story, Fantastic Four vs. the Mole Man)

Fantastic Four #55 (Featuring the Jack Kirby creation, the Silver Surfer)

Amazing Fantasy #15 (Origin story)

Amazing Spider-Man #72 (Spider-Man vs. the Shocker)

Incredible Hulk #1 (Origin story)

Incredible Hulk #118 (Incredible Hulk vs. Sub-Mariner)

Journey Into Mystery #83 (Thor origin story)

The Mighty Thor #143 (Thor vs. the Evil Enchanters)

Strange Tales #110 (First appearance of Dr. Strange)

Strange Tales #115 (Origin story)

Strange Tales #155 (Dr. Strange vs. Umar)

It goes without saying that much of Marvel’s success is to be attributed to Lee’s many collaborators, the artists who co-created the pantheon of Marvel’s superheroes in the early 1960s—especially Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and John Romita, Sr. Together, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revolutionized the flagging comic book industry when the Fantastic Four made their iconic first appearance back in November 1961.

This new breed of superheroes were not godlike, omnipotent beings. They were depicted as flawed—full of human foibles, insecurities, and eccentricities. They were often unsuccessful in their personal lives, like Peter Parker/Spider-Man, grotesque freaks like Ben Grimm/The Thing, or even outright embittered outcasts like Dr. Stephen Strange.

To me, it is absolutely clear that it was Lee’s personal brand of dynamism that defined the flavor of Marvel Comics and became the standard to which his successors tried to measure up, and there is no doubt that they took pains to imitate his literary style. True, they may not have had much choice in the matter, since it was company policy to maintain a certain degree of consistency in Marvel’s considerable output.

In 1972, Stan Lee became publisher and handed off the reins to Roy Thomas, who became editor-in-chief. An interesting fact: it was Roy Thomas who instructed that the familiar words “Stan Lee Presents” be added onto the first page of each issue.

Not surprisingly, Origins of Marvel Comics was followed by multiple sequels, the first being Sons of Origins, due to the commercial success of the first installment. Sons of Origins picks up where Origins of Marvel Comics leaves off, showcasing Marvel’s next wave of heroes: the X-Men, Iron Man, Nick Fury, Daredevil, and the Silver Surfer.

For comics book fans new and old alike, Origins of Marvel Comics does not disappoint. It has sentimental value to many and the cultural impact of its dazzling content cannot be understated.


Allen said...

I received this book as a Christmas present in late 70's and still have it today. Every once in awhile my 12 year old daughter will crack it open and enjoy its Bronze Age goodness. I also had a black and white reprint book "Superman: From the 30's to the 70's" and one other color reprint book featuring a variety of characters from the golden age including Superman, Captain America, Plastic Man, The Spirit and (for legal reasons) a one page reprint of the first issue of Whiz Comics featuring the original Captain Marvel (I don't remember the title of this book). In this age of easily accessible trade paperbacks it's easy to forget just how exciting it was to come across these reprint gems back in the day. Reading the early appearances of my favorite characters was like opening a whole new world to me.

Redartz said...

Great choice for a review, Thomas! This book's release was a mammoth event for me, and countless other Marvel 'zuvembies'. From the beautiful Romita cover through Stan's flowery wordplay to the stories themselves, this book was an instant favorite. I really enjoyed the more recent tales represented therein: most of the origin tales were already familiar, but the others were new to me at the time. It was my first exposure to the history behind Marvel, and it didn't disappoint.

Still have my original copy, too; with that dust cover intact. Yes, sprung for the hardcover. Incidentally, it seems like this appeared at the same time as the first Marvel Comics calendar (for 1975). Unless my memory fails me, I brought both items home the same day (wish I still had that calendar)...

Doug said...

Ooh, Redartz, you are a lucky boy! I have never even seen the single volume Origins hardcover. I've seen the combined Origins and Son of Origins volume, but not the one you have. Kudos!


Martinex1 said...

I must have read this a dozen times when I was a kid I got both Origin and Son of Origins at my first convention. I have to say for some reason I preferred Son of Origins. I liked that cover better and I was into Iron Man and Nick Fury and even the Watcher more at that time. Some of my favorite parts are Stan's brief prose.

Unknown said...


That brings back memories of my own. I used to borrow that hardcover b&w volume, Superman: From the 30s to the 70s, from the local library in the late 80s, week after week, no doubt monopolizing it by keeping it away from other eager kids who liked it and wanted to borrow it. As I recall, the book did have a section in color showing the vintage comic covers for each decade. I'm glad I managed to finally find a copy of the book in 2013.

P.S. There is also a companion volume out there, Batman: From the 30s to the 70s, that I'll have to get my hands on one of these days.


Karen said...

This review gave me the warm fuzzies. Like Redartz, I got the hardback edition with dustcover -I still have it! -when it came out. I pored over that book time and again. It was a real treasure for many years. The same thing with 'Son of Origins.' Two indispensable items for any Marvelite.

I also did not know that it was Roy Thomas who started the 'Stan Lee Presents' banner. Thanks for that info!

Allen said...

Thomas F. - there's also the "Shazam: From the 40's to the 70's" book. I've run across it a couple of times over the years but have never bought it. I had the Batman edition but traded it for a bunch of action figures.

Martinex1 said...

I always wondered how they picked the "new" modern stories for the Origins books. Some seemed like odd choices; not exactly blockbusters. Any idea on that? I always wondered why the Scarlet Witch was on the cover of Son of Origins; I don't think she was in it at all.

Until there is a Grandson of Origins... cheers!

William said...

Oh yeah, I picked this up back in the day (along with almost every other comic reader on the planet it would appear). Needless to say it became an instant favorite that I still have to this day. I must have read through it a dozen times or so growing up.

I was also quick to purchase the successors to this book - "Sons Of Origins", "Marvel's Greatest Superhero Battles", and "The Superhero Women". The only one I don't have is "Bring On The Bad Guys" much to my dismay these days. I forgot why I passed on that one. It may be because I already had some of those issues in other formats.

Anyway, great review! Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

Unknown said...


I couldn't agree with you more. Some of the chosen "new" modern tales for the Origins books seemed almost randomly selected. It's peculiar, since, most of them were certainly not key or even significant issues. And in updated editions of the various Origins books, which feature "new" tales chosen from the Eighties, this trend did not improve.

For instance, why was Amazing Spider-Man #72, which featured the Shocker, printed? I personally would have thought Amazing Spider-Man #50 (1st Kingpin), #90 (Death of Captain Stacy), #101 (1st Morbius), or #129 (1st Punisher) would have been more suitable.


Thanks for letting me know about Shazam: From the 40s to the 70s. I wasn't even aware of its existence. I'll have to hunt that one down as well.

Thomas F.

Anonymous said...

I'll echo everyone else's thoughts. I bought almost all of the origins books when they came out and still have them. Loved 'em and read 'em over and over again back in the day. I think I'll go dig those out of wherever they're hiding. The only one I don't have is Superhero Battles - not sure why that is.

And yes if he wasn't already, this run of books clearly established who was the face of Marvel. In fact, if you played the word association game in the mid-70s and someone said "Marvel Comics", I bet "Stan Lee" might come to mind as much as any hero or super group.

Thanks for the memories Thomas!


Redartz said...

Thomas and Martinex1- yes, although enjoying the stories, I too wondered about the choices. Particularly Amazing Spider-Man 72, as you noted Thomas. It was in the middle of that long "petrified tablet" story arc. You would think they'd have selected a stand-alone done-in-one...

Karen and Doug- yes, the hardback edition is a gem. Still have the dream of getting it signed by Stan homself at some point.

Anonymous said...

Not to rain on anyone's nostalgia, but I still want this NOW! Maybe this year, Santa....


William said...

Y'know, now that you guys mention it some of the "New" stories in the original "Origins" book were truly head scratchers. Especially the one's that were just a single chapter of a multi-part story. (Like the Doc Strange issue).

I also thought that FF #55 was a particularly odd choice, as it pretty much only featured The Thing in what was essentially a solo adventure battling the Silver Surfer. They really couldn't come up with a stand alone issue of the FF that actually included the entire team?

I am now convinced they just thew a dart a bunch of random comics and chose whatever they hit. LOL

Humanbelly said...

And some of the "Now" choices weren't all the "now" at all, even "then", right? Incredible Hulk #118 is an extremely strong issue, no question (art, story, pacing, etc-- and works great as a standalone)-- but I believe it came out in either late 68/early 69. But--- I can't say I didn't love how strong it looked next to the rest of the "now"s, y'know?

That Spidey arc really was a pretty darned good one, but yeah-- not a good representation of the state-of-the-title at all.

Ah, I loved this volume. Either my Buddy Bryan or his brother had it, and I borrowed it, like , 4 times. At the time, the very fact of reading well-printed color comic books in a BOOK format made it worth revisiting oft-read stories!


J.A. Morris said...

I didn't get this one for a while, had to rely on my best friend's copy. But I received Origins of Marvel Comics as a birthday gift in 1981. I still have it, one of the prized possessions on my "reprint books" shelf. That Romita cover is still one of my favorites all these years later.

I agree with most here, the "later" stories were somewhat odd choices. The Hulk and FF stories were all pretty good, the others not so much. But I'll always love the image of Thor drinking a soda, and the Kirby art was great, even if that story wasn't exactly essential.

Edo Bosnar said...

Loved these, too. As Doug noted in his intro - and it's come up in other discussions as well - these were regular Christmas gifts for a few years in the late '70s. And I also had Son of Origins first, while my very favorite was Greatest Superhero Battles.

As to those "newer" second stories, I was always baffled by the second Iron Man story in Son of Origins. Sure, it had him in his familiar red & gold armor, and it was drawn by long-time IM penciler Gene Colan, but man it was just so weirdly random. It introduced Whiplash as a villain, and had a cliffhanger ending.

Anonymous said...

Man, I gotta get this book!

- Mike 'son of somebody' from Trinidad & Tobago.

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