Monday, 25 June 2018

Marvel Years 03.09 - September 1963

September 1963 was one of the most exciting months for Marvel. Not one but two super-teams were introduced in new comics. The X-Men were a typical team of newly created heroes. The Avengers were a team of existing heroes, all of whom had their own comics (except for the Hulk, whose comic had been cancelled after six issues). It's generally accepted that Fantastic Four #1 ushered in the Marvel Age, but The Avengers #1 – the Avengers were a more significant group than the X-Men in the 1960's – lifted the Marvel Age to the next level.

The Avengers #1

Title: The Coming of the Avengers

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Avengers: Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man, Wasp, Hulk

Villain: Loki

Regulars: Rick Jones

Guests: Odin, Jane Foster, Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, Johnny Storm, Susan Storm

Even though I enjoy the comics published from November 1961 until now, I consider The Avengers #1 to be the best comic so far. It's brilliant. I don't just mean the story. Look at the artwork of the first page. That's Jack Kirby at his best.

This story starts with Loki trying to provoke a fight between Thor and the Hulk. Rick Jones suspects that someone is interfering with the Hulk and sends a radio message to the Fantastic Four asking for help. They receive the message too late, but Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp answer the call. At the end of the comic they form a team, together with the Hulk. Please note that in contrast to the recent films, Captain America isn't the first Avenger. He wasn't one of the five founding members. If anyone, Ant-Man has the right to be considered the first Avenger as the one who suggested the team.

I've added a line in the monthly statistics with the names of the group members. This is important, because the Avengers changed their lineup frequently. I'll also do this with the X-Men, because there were a few membership changes as well.

X-Men #1

Title: X-Men

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

X-Men: Cyclops, Angel, Beast, Iceman, Marvel Girl

Villain: Magneto

Regulars: Professor X

This is the second new comic with a new team this month. It's a slightly new concept to Marvel's previous heroes. The team members haven't acquired their powers though freak accidents like gamma rays or radioactive spiders; they were born with powers. They are called mutants, a new genetic development in human evolution, kick-started by atomic power. In the early days of Marvel the arrival of mutants is always connected with atomic power, so no mutants were born before 1945. This is in contrast to the X-Men films, which show Magneto as a young boy with powers in the Warsaw Ghetto.

The comic begins with the X-Men consisting of four members: Cyclops, Angel, Beast and Iceman. After a few pages the fifth member arrives, Marvel Girl. I've decided to follow comic tradition and not consider Professor X a member of the X-Men, even though he frequently takes part in their battles. He's their mentor, not a costumed crime fighter.

There are two things that were different in the first few issues of X-Men.

Iceman looks like a snowman, not a block of ice.

Cyclops' name is Slim Summers. Slim is obviously a nickname, and we don't find out his real name for a few months.

There's no mention of Magneto's past history with Professor X. As the comics progress there are occasional hints.

Fantastic Four #18

Title: A Skrull walks among us

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Super-Skrull

We last saw the Skrulls in Fantastic Four #2. Now they return, although only one Skrull actually fights against the Fantastic Four. This is a warrior called the Super-Skrull. In addition to the usual Skrull ability of shape-changing he has all the powers of the Fantastic Four.

Like Fantastic Four #17, this story begins by referencing the previous issue's story in the first panel. Stan Lee is slowly building up momentum on his path to creating continued stories.

Amazing Spider-Man #4

Title: Nothing can stop the Sandman

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Villain: Sandman

Regulars: Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, Flash Thompson, Liz Allan

This comic introduces Sandman, who goes on to become one of Spider-Man's most frequent adversaries. This is also the comic in which we first find out the name of the blonde girl in Peter Parker's class: Liz Allan.

Tales to Astonish #47

Title: Music to scream by

Writer: Stan Lee, Ernie Hart
Artist: Don Heck

Villain: Trago

A trumpet player called Trago learns how to play musical notes that hypnotise his listeners. While they are disabled he robs them.

This issue also contains three short anthology stories.

Journey into Mystery #96

Title: Defying the Magic of Mad Merlin

Writer: Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein
Artist: Joe Sinnott

Regulars: Jane Foster, Loki

Villain: Merlin

The sarcophagus of Merlin, the legendary wizard in King Arthur's court, is sent to New York to be put on display. Merlin isn't dead. He's been lying asleep for the last 1000 years, waiting for the right time to return and conquer the world. We find out that he's not a magician at all, he's a "mutant" who was born with the powers of telekinesis and teleportation.

This villain, who Stan Lee claims is the original Merlin, isn't to be confused with later versions of Merlin invented in the post-canon years.

It's not a mistake that I've listed Loki as a regular character, not a villain. In this issue he doesn't threaten Thor. On the contrary, he offers assistance.

This issue also contains three short anthology stories.

Tales of Suspense #45

Title: The Icy Fingers of Jack Frost

Writer: Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein
Artist: Don Heck

Villain: Jack Frost

Regulars: Pepper Potts, Happy Hogan

Jack Frost is Professor Shapanka, a disgruntled ex-employee of Tony Stark. He invents a suit with which he can freeze himself in a protective cocoon and freeze others around him in ice blocks.

More significantly, this issue marks the first appearance of Tony Stark's employees and friends, Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts. Happy is an ex-boxer that he hires as his chauffeur. Pepper has been working as Tony's private secretary for a while, but this is the first time we see her.

A typical Stan Lee love triangle develops. Happy immediately falls in love with Pepper, who isn't interested in him because she's in love with Tony Stark. She thinks Tony doesn't want her because he prefers beautiful debutantes to a plain girl like her, but Tony is only pretending to be a playboy Casanova to hide his secret identity; he doesn't want a serious relationship with anybody.

This issue also contains a short anthology story.

Strange Tales #112

Title: The Threat of the Living Bomb

Writer: Stan Lee, Joe CarterArtist: Dick Ayers

Villains: Eel

Regulars: Susan Storm, Reed Richards, Ben Grimm

Guests: Wizard

The Human Torch battles a villain called the Eel who gets his powers from a suit he wears. As well as being slippery and unable to hold, he can discharge electricity like an electric eel.

We see the Wizard briefly in a prison cell.

This issue also contains two short anthology stories.

Other comics published this month:

Millie the Model #116 (Stan Lee, Stan Goldberg)
Modeling with Millie #25 (Stan Lee, Stan Goldberg)
Patsy Walker #109 (Stan Lee, Al Hartley)
Kid Colt Outlaw #112 (Stan Lee, Jack Keller)
Two Gun Kid #65 (Stan Lee, Dick Ayers)
Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #3 (Stan Lee, Jack Kirby)

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