Monday 6 February 2012

Origins of Marvel Comics.

Origins of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee, John Romita cover, Fantastic Four, Sub-Mariner, Spider-Man, Dr Strange, Hulk, typewriter, hands
First off, I promised the man the world knows as Capn Midnight that I'd give a plug for his comic Zombie Outlaw. So, if you don't have enough zombies in your life - or would rather spend your time with the outlaws than the in-laws - it might be just the thing for you.

But it's now time for Steve Does Comics to leave such gruesome matters behind and perform its speciality of reviewing something I've not actually read.

Well, OK, that's not strictly true. I've read Origins of Marvel Comics more times than I could shake a Skrull at but I  haven't had my hands on a copy for a good fifteen years, meaning I'm going to have to ramble on about my vague recollections of it and hope they bear some resemblance to reality.

I was given the first three Marvel Origins books on Christmas Day in what may have been 1975 and, of course, quickly realised they're the three greatest books ever published in the history of mankind, containing as they do the births of our favourite heroes and villains.

First of the Triptych of Tremendous was Origins of Marvel Comics. How could I not love it? Not only did it have Stan Lee's hands on the cover but it gave us the first appearances of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Thor and Dr Strange. Sadly, Ant-Man, who was technically Marvel's second ever super-hero, was nowhere to be seen.

Still, as if the origins we did get weren't enough to make any Christmas, we also got a bonus story for each of those characters, from a few years later in their development.

Admittedly the choice of later stories could in places seem a little odd.

The later Fantastic Four tale barely featured the Fantastic Four at all, concentrating as it did on the Thing fighting the Silver Surfer.

It was hard to argue against the story featuring the Hulk vs Sub-Mariner. With its lack of the usual supporting cast, it could hardly be called a typical example of that phase in the strip's history but it had two of Marvel's mightiest heroes going toe-to-toe, so who was ever going to complain about that?

The later Spider-Man tale featured the Shocker. It was entertaining enough - and gave us a fair bit of Peter Parker's personal woes but, given the string of classics to choose from, and the fact it was atypical in being drawn by John Buscema, I always felt there must've been more logical tales to choose from.

The selection for the later Thor story always seemed plain perverse to me - being Part One of a two-part story, meaning it ended just as it was getting exciting. Not only that but it was inked by Bill Everett instead of Vince Colletta, meaning we didn't get a flavour of the strip's usual look.

I must admit I can recall barely anything about the later Dr Strange tale other than it was drawn by Marie Severin and featured Umar. To be honest, such was its lack of impact on me, I think I may have only read it once and never bothered to revisit the tale. The failure to select a Gene Colan/Tom Palmer outing really did strike me as baffling.

The other Dr Strange tales - featuring his Steve Ditko drawn debut and his origin - were of course beyond reproach.

I think Thor's origin was the only one I'd actually read prior to getting the book, so it was an eye opener to see exactly how my much-loved heroes started out. The Fantastic Four tale, with its origin and then meeting with the Mole Man felt incredibly long and epic. Spider-Man was of course an emotion-packed classic.

But my favourite origin of the ones presented here had to be the aforementioned Thor. There's still something about Don Blake finding that cane in that cave, and the Stone Men From Saturn's invasion attempt that always grabs me.

My least favourite of those origins was probably the Hulk's. The bit where he actually became the Hulk was fine but the later section with the Gargoyle all felt somewhat workmanlike and of its time compared to the other origins.

At the time I had the book I wasn't aware of the controversies over who created what in the Marvel Universe and so took as gospel Stan's recollections of himself basically coming up with everything. It'd be interesting to read Stan's text sections today, with that in mind.

I also now know the golf match at which Martin Goodman decided he needed an answer to the Justice League may never have happened, that Amazing Fantasy #15 may not have been planned to be the last ever issue when Spider-Man was slotted into it, and that a whole bunch more anecdotes about how things unfolded may have owed more to Stan Lee's faulty memory and breezy willingness to bend reality to the needs of a good story than they did to accuracy.

So, as a historical document it was probably somewhat unreliable but it helped make my Christmas one year, and anything that makes a child's Christmas can't be totally without merit.


Kid said...

Interestingly, in the first printing of the book, the stories in the Doctor Strange section were printed out of sequence, which kind of ruined it. Later editions were corrected. (I've got three copies of this book - nyah!)

Boston Bill said...

While I already loved comics, this book turned me into a truly obsessive comic geek - and I am grateful.

I agree about the odd choices of back up tales. Especially the Thor story, which really stars Balder and Sif. Mostly, I could have done without them and would have preferred more origins. Oh, and I was ticked that Subby was featured on the cover, but we didn't get to see his origin.

Re-read Stan's text Steve. The most interesting part is the origin of the Silver Surfer, where Stan describes seeing the Surfer for the first time after Jack Kirby drew him into a story. And as I recall, he never talks about imagining the heroes' costumes or even their powers at times - to Stan, the concept was everything.

Boston Bill said...

Oh, and as I recall, the Spider-Man back-up story is described by Stan as the Electro story featuring Spidey's visit to the laundramat. But the story turned out to be 'Rocked by the Shocker' Makes the whole thing seem like a bit of a rush job!