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for Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Marvel 1966

Let's return to January 4, 1966, for the second installment of our Marvel 1966 series. Two days earlier, in New York City, home of Marvel Comics and, not coincidentally, most of the Marvel Comics super-heroes, public transportation workers went on strike. But this strike, which would end on January 13, didn't keep the new Marvels from arriving on newsstands across the nation.

There were seven new issues the week of January 4, and another six the following week. We looked at half the January 4 releases - Thor #126, The X-Men #18, Daredevil #14, and Tales To Astonish #78 - in last Monday's TOT. Today, we'll check out the remaining three issues.

Marvel Collector's Item Classics 2

There was as much copy on the cover of MARVEL COLLECTOR'S ITEM CLASSICS #2 [April, 1966] as on the book's interior pages. Each of the three stories whose original covers made up the cover montage was guaranteed to be complete, unabridged, and as thrilling as the day they first appeared. Each of the tales got a paragraph touting its virtues. The Fantastic Four reprint debuted the team's costume and other "famous comic magazine firsts!" The Spider-Man adventure, which introduced the Sandman, was said to have been the issue which "made all of fandom realize that nobody could create abominable arch-villains like mighty Marvel!" The Ant-Man story, well, whoever wrote the cover copy (either Stan Lee or Roy Thomas) settled for saying the hero hadn't been forgotten. On the inside front cover, there were these credits...

Bullpen bigwig: Smilin' STAN LEE

Production potentate: Swingin' SOLLY BRODSKY

Coordinating commissar: Rascally ROY THOMAS

Art affiliator: Mirthful MARIE SEVERIN

Water-color wizard: Salubrious STAN G.

Minister without portfolio: Fabulous FLO STEINBERG

Kibitzing collaborator: Impecunious IRVING FORBUSH

(And a shiny new NO-PRIZE to any pussycat who can tell us what in the name of Aunt Petunia those nutty titles MEAN!)

...and the announcement that MCIC was such a sudden smash-hit that it would now be published every other month.

Fantastic Four 3

"The Menace of the Miracle Man" was from Fantastic Four #3 [March, 1962]. With a few modifications and one exception, the FF's uniforms have stood the test of time.

The Thing's uniform came with a helmet and covered his entire body. It didn't take very long for the not-so-bashful Ben Grimm to ditch the helmet and rip off his shirt. By the next issue, he'd be down to shorts and boots. The boots would quietly disappear by the issue's last page. If you've got it, even if "it" is rocky orange skin, flaunt it.

The book-length adventure was written by Stan Lee, pencilled by Jack Kirby, inked by Sol Brodsky, and lettered by Artie Simek. The Miracle Man's amazing feats are explained by his being a master of mass hypnosis, a power than extends to those watching his tricks on TV. He loses his power when the Human Torch creates a gigantic blinding flash of flame in front of him. The villain will regain his sight, but not his power.

Even in 1966, I didn't believe the above. However, the saving grace of this otherwise mediocre issue came on its last page when the Torch, tired of being bullied by the Thing and treated like a kid by Reed and Sue, quits the team. It's an unforgettable moment as Sue frets over what will become of her brother and Reed worries about mankind:

"It's not him I'm worried's mankind! For what will we do, what can we do if...if he should turn against us?!"

Did anyone ever write an issue of What If? following up on this and examining what would have happened if Johnny Storm had, indeed, turned against mankind? That would have been a natural for that series.

Tales to Astonish 37

The Astonishing Ant-Man was "Trapped by the Protector" in an adventure that originally appeared in Tales to Astonish #37 [November, 1962]. There were no credits on the tale, but the Grand Comics Database [] lists Stan Lee and Larry Lieber on the script with art by Jack Kirby (pencils) and Dick Ayers (inks). The Marvel Comics 1939-1980 website at...

...has editor Lee for the plot and Lieber for the script. I'm inclined to give Larry credit for the writing with Stan filling the traditional editor's role. Of course, when you have Kirby in the mix, it's not unreasonable to assume Jack contributed something to the story as well.

This Ant-Man story is both inventive and illogical. Hank Pym gets around town via a miniature cannon with his ants forming huge piles of themselves to cushion his landings. This is but his third recorded adventure as a costumed hero, but he's already keeping a bunch of ants at police headquarters so he can communicate with the cops and vice versa.

The villain is a seeming giant of a man who offers protection to jewelry store owners and, if they refuses to pay, disintegrates their stock. It's later revealed that he actually steals the goods under cover of his weapon's smoke and leaves dust in their place. However, the art always shows the store showcases being reduced to dust as well. The Protector's costume is roomy - "He wore platform shoes and mechanically controlled rods and springs to perform his feats of strength!" - but it ain't roomy enough for him to conceal a showcase. This discrepancy between dialogue and visuals makes me think Kirby was working from a full script and not the plot-script method which soon became the Marvel norm. Or it could just be that whoever proofread the story missed the obvious error.

Does this earn me a no-prize?

Amazing Spider-Man 4

Though the Fantastic Four and Ant-Man stories had their flaws, "Nothing Can Stop...the Sandman!" was a bona fide classic in every sense of the word. It first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #4 [September, 1963].

Stan Lee and Steve Ditko packed this 21-page adventure with action, comedy, human drama, personality, and satire. The Sandman is one of the great Marvel super-villains and his eventual defeat is a terrific example of a hero using his brains as effectively as his powers. In this issue, Spidey jumps the gun in confronting a trio of burglars and has to flee as the punks demand that a passing policeman arrest him. The ups and downs of Peter Parker's civilian life are never far removed from his super-heroics. Each and every regular character is clearly defined and gets his or her moment to shine. The writing is witty and compelling; the art is exciting and realistic. The only jarring note is Spidey's faking some news photos, but the imp in me still half-thinks J. Jonah Jameson had it coming. Over four decades since it first appeared, this remains a great story.

The news that Marvel Collector's Item Classics would be published every other month thrilled me. Stan and my Bullpen pals, for that's how I thought of them, were making it easy for me to get all those great stories I had missed.

Rawhide Kid 51

RAWHIDE KID #51 [April, 1966] was cover-billed as "the off-beat western to end all off-beat westerns," but it was fairly mild compared to the costumed villains and giant monsters the Kid had faced when Stan Lee was writing the book. Even so, writer and penciller Larry Lieber had a knack for spinning yarns that made the Old West exciting. Historically accurate? Not very likely. But I got a kick out of them anyway.

"Trapped in the Valley of Doom" was a tightly-plotted 17-page story in which the Kid helped an archaeologist's beautiful daughter rescue her father from "the last remaining Aztec tribe...hidden in a remote valley in Mexico." The professor's treacherous guide cuts a deal an equally treacherous medicine man to overthrow the tribe's chief. The girl escapes, the Kid finds her, and their adventure is underway. By the end of the last page, the Kid has shown himself to be one heck of a fighter and shooter, earned the friendship of the Aztecs, and won the girl. The professor decides the Aztecs are best left undisturbed. Everybody's happy...until Rawhide realizes he can't keep the girl.

For a precious moment, Johnny Clay feels the thrill of a pretty girl's affection! But he is a fugitive...a man in constant flight from the law! For him, there can be no love.

Lieber's pencils were inked by Carl Hubbell, a comics artist of the 1940s through 1960s. In addition to his Rawhide Kid stint, Hubbell worked with Norman Maurer and Joe Kubert on Boy Comics and other Lev Gleason titles, drew the android Captain Marvel for Myron Fass Publications, and inked Dick Ayers on several issues of Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandoes

In this month's "Marvel Bullpen Bulletins" page, the lead item touted Stan Lee's interview on the Tony Marvin radio program "The World Today" the previous October and also the September issue of Esquire that included Spider-Man and the Hulk among "the 28 people who count most on campus!"

Kudos were also extended to Stan Goldberg who'd "just drawn an advertisement for one of the biggest soft-drink companies," an ad which could be seen on the "biggest billboard" in Times Square; to Mickey Spillane, the author of the Mike Hammer novels, who "used to scribble scripts for the Marvel Bullpen"; to Bill Everett, who was "hankering to rejoin the bullpen again on a permanent basis"; and to Roy Thomas, "our newest Marvel maniac" and "probably the only editorial-staffer who can read hieroglyphics."

Bare Knuckles

Backing up the lead was "Bare Knuckles in Booneville," a non-series tale by Stan Lee and Jack Keller. Reprinted from the fairly recent Rawhide Kid #36 [October, 1963], the story details an encounter between the local thugs and a "rosy-cheeked stranger" who steps off a stagecoach to stretch his legs. This stranger doesn't take kindly to be pushed around and, asking the stagecoach driver not to interfere, proceeds to give the three hoodlums a thrashing. The driver and his assistant ask the stranger his name.

...after we get thru tellin' folks what happened today, we're gonna make you famous!"

The stranger responds:

Well now, that's mighty kind of you gents! But there are one or two folks who've heard of me already...My name's Corbett! Some folks call me "Gentleman Jim!" I happen to be the heavyweight champion of the world!

The "Ridin' the Trail With Rawhide" letters page was reduced to half-a-page by the title's "Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation." The average print run was 330,461 and, for the issue nearest to the filing date, 361,135. Total paid circulation averaged 192,435 with 105 subscriptions, which went up to 226,735 with 135 subscriptions for the issue nearest to filing date. Don't compare this to the current "top 300" sales figures. It would just make you very, very sad.

Patsy and Hedy 105

PATSY AND HEDY #105 [April, 1966] took Marvel's career girls to Hollywood in a story written by Roy Thomas, pencilled by Stan Goldberg, and inked by Al Hartley. The former rivals are now collaborating columnists for the New York Star, assigned to write about exciting young stars. They have a friend in disc jockey Al Tindall, who harbors a not-so-secret interest in Patsy, even though he knows her heart belongs to boyfriend Buzz, currently serving in Vietnam. Al is a perfect gentleman, respectful of Patsy's wishes, but Hedy gets involved with conniving nightclub singer Rick Strong. It takes 18 pages, a tiff with Patsy, and a shocking revelation of Strong's temper before Hedy realizes the singer was more interested in publicity than her. Along the way, Thomas and Goldberg toss in a few star cameos: Vince "Ben Casey" Edwards, Cary Grant, and David "the other man from U.N.C.L.E." McCallum.

Hedy's Precious Party Gowns

The issue also features five pages of fashion fun:

"Here Comes the Bride"

"Patsy's Wonderful Winter-Wear"

"Hedy's Precious Party Gowns"

"Patsy and Hedy's Swinging Sweaters"

"Patsy and Hedy's Charming Coiffures"

The "Dear Patsy and Hedy" letters page shares space with the title's Statement of Ownership, Management, and Circulation." Most notable was a letter from by Barry Gleen of Cedarhurst, New York. He wrote:

Wait! Hold it! Stop the presses! Before you marry Nan off to this new intern, I would like to ask one question: what happened to Tubs, Nan's former boy friend? I think he should marry Nan, because, after all, he was going with her all through high school. Why did he disappear all of a sudden? What happened to him?

There was no response from Marvel. My guess is Tubs learned the hard way that even nice girls can break your heart. But let me shift into Marvel talk and write a response that could have run on this letters page:

Wouldja believe Smilin' Stan and the gang plumb forgot about good ol' Tubs? That's what happens when an overworked Bullpen has to deal with swinging super-heroes, howling commandoes, hard-riding cowboys, and gorgeous gals like Patsy and Hedy! We don't know what happened to Tubs, but there's a shiny new no-prize waiting for the rollicking reader who sends us the best explanation of where Nan's stout ex-beau is keeping himself. Who says this isn't the Mighty Marvel Age of Passing the Buck?

Myself...I'm thinking Canada.

Some of the advertising in Patsy and Hedy was exclusive to Marvel's "girl" titles. Readers could "stop ugly nails" for a mere $1.98; get a lovelier figure, face, and new beauty in only 7 days; buy a personal monogrammed ring for a buck; get a free first lesson on nursing; buy dresses for 18 cents and hairpieces for five bucks. As for the title's sales...

The average print run was 350,570 and, for the issue nearest to filing date, 375,075. Total paid circulation averaged 199,826 with 85 subscriptions, rising to 245,175 with 75 subscriptions for the issue nearest to filing date.


Throughout 1966, Marvel would release titles during the first two weeks of each month. In January, there were 7 titles hitting the newsstands the week of January 4, and another 6 titles going on sale the week of January 11. When next we visit 1966, probably in a week or so, we'll be looking at the February releases.

If you're enjoying this bit of online time travel, please let me know. I get a kick out of writing these columns, but it's much more fun if you're having a blast as well.

Special thanks to Dr. Michael J. Vassallo for the loan of Patsy and Hedy #105. It's the help of comics collectors and historians like him that makes it possible for me to make the "Marvel 1966" series as complete as possible.

Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. God and work willing, I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 04/23/2007 | 05/01/2007 | 05/02/2007 >>

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Zero Tonys
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.

ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.

TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?

THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.

FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?

FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.

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