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.