Marvel Comics in the 1960s REDUX
Marvel Comics In The 1960s: An Issue-By-Issue Field Guide To A Pop Culture Phenomenon is an excellent 2009 book by sci-fi writer and pop culture commentator Pierre Comtois providing a series of capsule reviews of the essential Marvel books published during the 1960s. The outstanding book captures the fantastic history of Marvel Comics during its glory years when the "House of Ideas" was creating the most memorable heroes and villains in pop culture history. Marvel was also returning to the original trend set by E.C. Horror Comics in the 1950s to write material that would expand the audience for comics beyond just little kids.
Marvel Comics in the 1960s offers an amazing capsule look at the era and, honestly, allowed me to reflect on my memories of Marvel in the 1960s. Ironically, my experience with "Marvel in the 1960s" actually occurred in the 1980s.
Beware, a stream of semi-consciousness is about to follow.
On 7-11's and Spider-Men
Trudging through the snow with my feet getting wet, I find myself at the local 7-11. A rack of comic books is visibly on display as I want into the door. The floor is sludge-filled thanks to all the ice and accumulated snow. There are many titles on the rack and, instead of my usual D.C. Comics' House of Mystery selection, I opt for an issue of Marvel Tales. For fifty-cents, I get a reprint of The Amazing Spider-Man #13. This was the first appearance of Mysterio and, even though this was the early 1980s, the comic still had a lot of modern relevance to me. Yes, I read scores of the current comics that were new and not reprints. The only other reprint book I would check out was Marvel Superheroes, which at the time was running classic 1970s reprints of The Incredible Hulk. (One of the issues featured a fun and over-the-top story with The Leader creating androids of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew!)
There was something odd about that early 1960s Spider-Man tale. Sure, I could quickly tell, even at a young age, that the writing was juvenile. In this issue, the Spider-Man was hardly the Spider-Man I had read as an even younger child in the late 1970s. The writing of Stan Lee and the off-the-wall weird art of Steve Ditko allowed this "kiddie" book to stand out.
Spider-Man did not hit the stride he attained in the late 1960s, and he was about 12 years away from falling into the mid-1970s formula. Just as I was growing as a child, Peter Parker was growing into Spider-Man, and Lee and Ditko were evolving into the creators of what was soon to be one of the top three iconic heroes of all-time. (The other two being the distinguished competition's Batman and Superman)
There was something more to this reprint. It not only gave you a glimpse into the way comic books were written in a previous generation, it gave you a glimpse of what it was like to live in that previous generation. The magazine reflected the times and, as you became engrossed in those pages, you were transported to them.
Reading a comic book is a process no different today than it was in 1940. You sit down, you open the book, and you read. As long as you are not distracted, you can be drawn right into the tale. Your suspension of disbelief goes away as the pages come magically to life.
For a time, reading a book like that does take you back to a (seemingly) more innocent time. For fifty-cents, you end up with your own private H.G. Wells' Time Machine.
Merry Marvel Memories on Castor Avenue
Circa 1981, I discovered a comic shop called "The Comics Vault" on Castor Avenue in Philadelphia. I was going to the dentist when I was shocked to find out there was an actual store dedicated to selling nothing but comic books. The next week, when I visited the store's interior, I was stunned to see old (high priced) comic books on the wall. These were the old, original Marvel Comics of the 1960s, and they grabbed me.
The books' image along the wall eached out to me and, surely, everyone else who walked into the shop for the first time. Those long, unseen legendary Marvel Comic issues that were mentioned in passing in current issues of Marvel titles were right there. They weren't reprints either. These were the musty titles of old. Originals that once passed through the hands of who knows who and know were adorned on walls as if the interior was a pop culture art gallery.
Two issues stood out. The Amazing Spider-Man #41 and #43, issues that featured the first and second appearance of the Rhino, captivated eyes. The Rhino was a B-character to be sure, but a cool one. He would go on to become a decent Hulk villain in time. His debut in the Spider-Man comics was made special thanks to the amazing cover art produced by John Romita Senior. Issue #41 was a unique full-page image of the debuting "Rampaging Rhino". Still, the second appearance two issues later was memorizing as it depicted Spider-Man being thrown around like a ragdoll by this over-the-top, brutish Cold War super-villain.
Iron Man, Captain America, the X-Men, the Avengers, the Incredible Hulk, and so many more were right there on the wall. Of course, there were some wonderful 1970s titles such as Conan the Barbarian, Tomb of Dracula, and more. The 1960s covers really stood out because they were the innovators. Something new and special was going on and readers of all ages at the time new it.
That "time" was not just relegated to the 1960s. Even if you are discovering old Marvel through the Essentials series of books, you will probably be overtaken by that same glory. I know I was in 2001 when I started reading the Essentials line, and, as the Johnny Cash song goes, it took me back to a time lost so many years ago.
Those Marvel Comics from the 1960s were full of wonder. You might not get the same sense of wonder as you did back in the era before eBay or Amazon but, once you start turning those pages, the wonder envelopes you.
At the register, there was a glass case featuring a mint condition copy of The Amazing Spider-Man #1. The price was $200.