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Thoughts On Marvel Comics Without Research
The vast majority of it is utter nonsense written (sometimes poorly) by potheads and drawn (sometimes crudely) bu other potheads; there were also potheads who did the inking and lettering.
But there is some truly good stuff; it’s just hidden beneath a universe worth of clones, alternate realities, semi-successful retcons, shameless trend-chasing, and about thirty years of putting Wolverine in everything.
The stories are good ones because even though the characters fly around with magic hammers, they have recognizable human emotions, flaws, motivations: this is in opposition to DC’s heroes, who are unknowable gods; the Fantastic Four, X-Men, and Avengers always spent more time fighting one another than any bad guys, while the Justice League lives on the moon.
Anyway, we begin at the beginning: Marvel was called Timely Comics back during the War; a young man came to work there named Stan Lieber.
Stan was just there temporarily, while he wrote his novel and became an important author, so he adopted the pen name Stan Lee.
It makes sense that Stan made up his name, because he has been making things up for quite a while now.
Somewhere in the fifties, Timely became Marvel and they didn’t publish superhero comics for a while – they did monster comics and romance and adventure and soldier comics, but in 1961, Marvel’s publisher saw that DC had a hit with Justice League, so he asked Stan for a team book. Stan and Jack Kirby came up with the Fantastic Four and the Marvel Universe was born.
That’s the story, anyway.
The FF is more than a little bit stolen from another comic, DC’s Challengers of the Unknown, and the art in the first issues is amateurish, but it was a hit, and so was Spider-Man, and then Thor and Iron Man and the rest.
Stan Lee’s way with dialogue is a bit dated (his characters whisper with exclamation points and constantly narrate their actions), but his characters and stories are still being used and told today.
It should also be noted that DC was deeply weird and corny during this period: Superman was a lunatic god forever fucking with Lois Lane, and Batman was hanging out with Ace the Bat Hound (true), and Green Arrow’s solution to every problem was “boxing glove arrow.”
Boxing glove arrow.
Plumbing fucked up?
Boxing glove arrow.
Crisis on Infinite Earths?
Boxing glove arrow.
Plus, DC took place in a stupidly named universe: Metropolis is a stupid name, and Star City is a stupid name, and Coast City is a stupid name.
Spider-Man, on the other hand, was from Forest Hills; he later attended Empire State University, which is uptown; for a long time, he lived in Chelsea, but I am assuming he has long since been priced out of the area.
Doctor Strange lived in the village; the Baxter Building, along with the Daily Bugle building, was in Midtown; Captain America kept an apartment in his old Brooklyn neighborhood, but stayed some nights at Avengers Mansion, which was on Fifth Avenue in Central Park. (It was the Frick Museum, basically.)
So everybody ran into each other constantly.
Team-ups always sold well: you put a bunch of heroes in a thing, then the reader is getting more value than if there were only one hero in the thing.
Simple hero economics.
Marvel’s books were always referencing each other, and characters popping in and out of each others’ stories, which made the reader a fan of “Marvel,” not Spidey, or Cap, or whatever.
Now, you know the premise (and I’m sticking to it), but Marvel might have the first interconnected fictional universe: a bunch of different creators working with a set of characters in a shared continuity.
Everybody’s got a universe now, but Marvel had one first.
A healthy portion of the credit for that goes to Stan Lee, but comics are a visual medium; the fact that, fifty years later, the underlying design of almost all the Marvel characters remains the same is a testament to the artists: Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko, and Don Heck, and Jim Steranko, and John Romita, Sr., and others I am disrespectfully forgetting.
Every character had his or her (mostly his) own supporting cast, and then they came together in the team books, and you had to buy everything to keep up, but that wasn’t impossible because comics cost ten cents and were sold (on spinner racks) in drugstores and supermarkets and bookstores, not dingy and unfriendly comic book stores.
The sixties and seventies were a boom time for Marvel, as their creative peak came when there were very few alternatives for children’s entertainment.
And let us make no mistake: comic books were for children.
There was nothing on TV; there was no internet: you rode your bike and read comic books.
Sometimes, you watched Dad drink on the lawn.
Back to it: comics, and Marvel in particular, had this long gestation period wherein they were untranslatable to any other medium.
The special effects just weren’t up to snuff for Iron Man in the 70’s.
Sure, there was The Incredible Hulk on TV, but it only lasted a few years; also, it proves my point.
The whole show was just a deaf guy on steroids painted green and some piano music.
There was the Batman TV show and the two Christopher Reeves Superman films, but everything else was utter crap, and in fact both of those products were utter crap, but they were light years better than anything else.
Which meant Marvel sold off the rights to just about everything, which led to problems down the line, such as the recent Fantastic Four movies, or the fact that the X-Men movies are secretly kinda shitty and don’t make a lick of sense.
For years and years, Marvel told stories under the radar, but no longer. Some stories that will not make it to the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
Captain America turns into a werewolf.
Thor becomes a frog, then gets his ass kicked by some sort of alien horse monster.
Doctor Doom hurling a Manhattan office building into orbit, repeatedly.
The Hulk will almost certainly not travel to the Microverse and woo the similarly-green Princess Jarella.
(All of these are actual things that actually happened. I am deliberately leaving out the X-Men’s history because the X-Men used to do bullshit like travel into the future and bring back wives and then drop their kids off in alternate realities and who can keep up with the X-Men’s bullshit?)