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Origins of Marvel Comics
"Origins of Marvel Comics"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND A while back on the Sequential Tart message boards, Tim O'Shea asked what comic book he could buy for his wife, a non-comics reader, and this got me to thinking....

When I was eight years old, there was a bookmobile at the elementary school I was attending, and inside, I was waiting while my cousin was checking out some books, and one of them caught my eye... the one which featured a Green Goliath, an ever-lovin' blue-eyed Thing, a Thunder God, and the most amazing web-slinger of them all. Needless to say, I grabbed the book from my cousin's startled hands, and raced up the hill for home, and to read it.

The author of the book was a guy named Stan Lee, and who reminisced about the creation of these characters, many of whom I hadn't heard of before reading the book, and whose writing style was open and friendly, making me want to linger a bit longer before checking out the reprinted comic book stories themselves.

Fantastic Four #1: A mysterious man fires off a flare to summon The Fantastic Four, whose name to the startled onlookers was something new, and not greeted with awe and anticipation. One member is a shadowy, trenchcoated figure, who discards his coat, and stands revealed as some sort of Thing, while another is a teenage hotrodder, who enjoys bursting into flame, and soaring through the air, and the final member is an invisible girl.

There has been a series of attacks on factories, and The Fantastic Four head for Monster Isle to find out what's behind this threat, and before long, they meet The Mole Man and his subterranean legions. By the end of the adventure, they barely manage to escape with their lives.

In its early days, The F.F. was comprised of a leader who would go to any lengths to uncover mysteries, a former pilot who bore a grudge for what his best friend had done to him, a youth whose abilities mirrored those of a golden age hero, and a girl who threatened to disappear in the background during a story.

Fantastic Four #55: "In Blazing Battle With The Silver Surfer!" A few years later, Reed and Sue have gotten married, while Ben Grimm's girlfriend is a blind sculptoress named Alicia Masters, who had also made the acquaintance of the former herald of Galactus... The Silver Surfer!

Through a misunderstanding, The Thing pays a visit to Alicia, when she is comforting The Silver Surfer, and has her arms around him. The sight is more than Ben can bear, and when The Surfer asks him if there's anything bothering The Thing, the former herald finds out that it's clobberin' time, as he is sent sailing through Alicia's window!

The Thing's jealousy is soon abated by the fact that The Silver Surfer is not truly human, and he has used his power cosmic to even the difference in strength between them, and this may result in an explosive finish for the world if he isn't careful. Ben flies his jetcycle in hopes of getting The Surfer away from a populated area. The fight ends on a rooftop, where Ben's teammates arrive, and bawl him out for the way he's behaved towards The Surfer, who gives him a bouquet of cosmic flowers to give to Alicia, as an apology for his behavior.

It goes to show that a person can be zapped with cosmic rays and become a pile of orange rocks, as well as being a jerk, at the same time. The Fantastic Four are not only the first super-team, they are a dysfunctional (normal) family, as well, and will be there for one another long after Doctor Doom has given up on cursing Reed Richards every other issue.

Incredible Hulk #1: An American scientist is testing the gamma bomb, when he sees a teenager driving his hot rod onto the test site, and rushes out to get the kid out of there, but the scientist's lab assistant (who is in fact a Russian Spy), and although the teenager is saved, the scientist is caught in the explosion!

Miraculously, he is still alive, and both are kept indoors for observation, but when night falls, the scientist undergoes a bizarre transformation into a grey-skinned goliath whom soldiers will dub... The Hulk!

The creature breaks free of its confinement and makes for the laboratory of its alter-ego, where the Russian spy has been looking for the gamma bomb formula, and has found instead payback for his moment of betrayal. Imprisoned, the spy radios his superiors, and the Russian scientist known as The Gargoyle, decides to head for the states, and see for himself the creature that foiled his plans.

Another night, and Bruce Banner has become The Hulk, who is surprised by The Gargoyle, and is subjected to a will-sapping shot, along with Rick Jones! Together, the man-monster and his sidekick are given an all-expense paid trip to The Soviet Union aboard the X-15, but along the way, The Hulk turns back to Bruce Banner, and the atomic scientist finds a kindred spirit in his Russian counterpart, who'd give anything to be normal again, even if the cure robs him of his genius.

The radiation treatment is given, and The Gargoyle is once again human! Bruce and Rick make their escape, just as the former Gargoyle depresses a switch to dispose of himself and his superiors, so that he can repay the American's kindness and die as a man!

A man devoted to science and scorned by his girlfriend's father becomes The Incredible Hulk, but Bruce Banner's true strength is in his compassion, and willingness to aid those who are in need, whether they know it or not.

Incredible Hulk #118: "A Clash of Titans!" An irresistible force meets an immovable object when The Hulk meets The Sub-Mariner in the heart of Atlantis.

Lady Dorma saves the life of an unconscious Bruce Banner, who was left adrift, and her act of kindness is used as a tool by Mistress Fara to convince Namor that she sought to betray the kingdom by conspiring with a surfaceman!

In the confrontation which follows, The Savage Sub-Mariner would have answers from Dorma, but both are dumbstruck by the sight of The Incredible Hulk, and the fight which follows, as both titans clash, collide, and each combatant is once again in his element.

The Sub-Mariner is a sleek, cunning, wily adversary beneath the sea, while The Hulk relies on his brute strength, and once he begins a rampage, he is impossible to stop. Both characters were awesomely rendered by Herb Trimpe, and I regard this as one of Marvel's Greatest Super-Hero Battles ever.

Amazing Adult Fantasy #15: A teenage wallflower is bitten by a radioactive spider and gains its abilities. He decides to use these powers as a way to earn money as an entertainer in order to pay back his aunt and uncle for their years of devotion to him, and the rest of the world can go hang as he is concerned.

One day, he sees a crook being chased by police, and he lets the criminal get away since he figures it's none of his concern. He soon becomes a success, but one night, he sees police cars outside of his home, and is told that his Uncle Ben has been murdered by an armed burglar.

Knowing that the burglar is at an abandoned warehouse, the young man dons his costume, and swings for the hideout, where he confronts his uncle's killer, and after capturing him, he sees that the man is the same one he saw running from the police the other day... the one he could have stopped, but didn't.

It was in this moment that Peter Parker learned that with great power, there must come great responsibility, and so, the name of Spider-Man is added to the roster of those who would uphold justice and aid those in need.

Brought to life by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, this classic tale has been re-told since then, but the original story's theme stands firm, and is true to this day.

Amazing Spider-Man #72: "Rocked By The Shocker!" The villain is in search of an ancient tablet, and knocks out Captain Stacy, who just happens to be the father of Gwen Stacy, the girlfriend of Peter Parker, who is now a few years older and wiser.

The Web-Slinger soon catches up with The Shocker, and uses his webbing to tangle up the villain's vibro-units, so that he'll be a handy bundle for the police. It turns out that the authorities do show up to take The Shocker into custody, but they wouldn't mind taking a few shots at Spider-Man, too, and this hard-luck hero has saved the day, but is in the doghouse with Gwen and her father for one reason or another.

The story was written by Stan Lee and the art was by John Romita, whose version of Peter and his friends are among my favorites, as his art has the characters' appearances reflect their personalities and actions quite beautifully. There's no mistaking The Shocker for Aunt May, for example.

Journey Into Mystery #83: The Stonemen From Saturn have arrived on Earth to conquer it, just as Dr. Don Blake is on vacation in Norway, and happens to witness their arrival. He is soon spotted and is chased, but manages to elude them by entering a cave, and coming upon an ancient walking stick.

In using it as a lever to move a boulder, he strikes the walking stick against the rock, and undergoes a transformation, from mortal doctor to Norse God of Thunder... Thor!

Although his body is that of a god, the personality is still that of Don Blake, who soon learns how to control his powers, and use the hammer properly in commanding storms and winds.

The Stone Men From Saturn don't know what to make of this newcomer, and are soon scattered by the man-god, who must be like the rest of the inhabitants of Earth, which they soon leave, and vow never to return.

Don Blake had been found worthy of wielding the hammer of Thor, and became more than he once was, yet retained his humanity in the presence of godlike strength and power.

The Mighty Thor #143: "The Enchanters" threaten Asgard, but the story begins at a soda shop on Earth, where The God of Thunder is dealing with his thirst by sipping on an ice cream soda, and regaling some teenagers with tales of his homeland, which is located across the Rainbow Bridge, where Balder and Sif confront the three mystics who would dare challenge Odin.

On Earth, The Thundergod has finished his soda and his tale, but is pursued on the streets by the teenagers as if he were a mortal pop star, and takes his leave of them by whirling his enchanted hammer.

The real reason for his sudden departure is an anxious patient of Dr. Donald Blake, who is awaiting some test results. After changing back to the mortal physcian, he assures the patient that he is in good health, and the man's relief is matched by Don Blake's smile, for he has helped his fellow man.

On Asgard, The Enchanters have trapped Balder and Sif, but the goddess possesses the power to transcend both time and space, and soon she and Balder find themselves on Earth, where they ask a traffic cop for the whereabouts of Thor.

They are referred to Doctor Donald Blake, who upon seeing them, recognizes them, and demands to know what is the matter. The two Immortals are momentarily startled by the young doctor, but when he places his hand on Sif's shoulder, Balder warns him that none but her beloved Thor may embrace her.

The mortal doctor smiles and tells them that this is so, just as he'll show them how he knows them, as he takes his walking stick and strkes it on the ground... once!

They are now in the presence of The Mighty Thor, who greets his comrades, and learns of the threat to the realm eternal, just as The Enchanters make their way to... Earth!

A tale by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, who imparted a sense of grandeur in his art, and whose depictions of Thor and his fellow Asgardians certainly established the method for those who followed.

Strange Tales #110: A man has trouble sleeping and is haunted by a ghostly image, so much so that he seeks out the services of a Doctor Strange.

The Doctor promises to solve the mystery of the man's sleepless nights... by entering his dreams!

Setting himself into a trance, the astral form of Dr. Strange confronts the ghostly shrouded figure, who tells him that in life he was the man's business partner, and was cheated by him.

The sleeper awakens, and with his secret revealed, he seeks to prevent Dr. Strange from divulging it, by shooting him, but the mage's mystic amulet freezes the would-be killer in his tracks.

This first tale of Dr. Strange by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko introduced The Master of The Mystic Arts, The Ancient One, and Nightmare to the inquiring minds of Marvel readers.

Strange Tales #115: "The Origin of Doctor Strange!" He was once a gifted surgeon, more concerned with money than the lives of the patients he saved, but a car crash soon ended his career, and his vanity soon caused him to plunge deep into despair.

After hearing of an Ancient One who could cure a man's ills, he begins a quest to find him, and one day, he confronts the aged mentor at his abode.

The Ancient One tells him that the cure he seeks is not for his hands, but for himself. Stephen Strange figures the old man to be a hoax, but he has to stay there until the snowstorm subsides.

He soon happens upon Mordo, one of The Ancient One's students, using his sorcery to slay an image of The Ancient One. When Strange heads to warn of the student's treachery, Mordo casts a spell which places an iron clamp around his mouth so he cannot speak.

The spell doesn't prevent Stephen Strange from asking The Ancient One to train him in the mystic arts, and as the years pass, he soon masters them, and the name of Doctor Strange, Master of The Mystic Arts is spoken in whispers across the world.

Once a proud man, Stephen Strange learned that he couldn't help himself without helping his fellow man, and in so doing, he became The Sorceror Supreme of Earth.

The mystical art of Steve Ditko captured the world of Doctor Strange, from Nightmare's Realm to The Dark Dimension of Dormammu, and may The Eye of Agamotto continue to shine upon it.

Strange Tales #155: "The Fearful Finish!" The Unspeakable Umar has been freed, and she has used her mystical abilities to seek an end to Dr. Strange and his beloved Clea, but with the aid of The Ancient One, Clea is sent to a safe place, while The Master of The Mystical Arts has been bound by his mentor's magic, and the last words he hears is that... "Umar Walks The Earth!"

Marie Severin is the artist for this adventure, as she takes both Dr. Strange and Clea for a stroll into mystical realms of abstract concepts and the mind.

By the time I finished reading the stories and Stan's retelling of the characters' creation, I found that I could care for the characters, that they had gotten their abilities by accident, yet chose to use those powers wisely when called upon, even when their personal lives were in limbo.

The magic of these characters is that they face adversity in the forms of their foes, their friends, and often... themselves.

They rail against a wide variety of situations, yet manage to continue, if not in victory, then on their own terms, and for the sanctity of their own worlds.

They represent hope.

'Nuff Said.

Steve Chung