Disappointments of Marvel’s Early Years

As I recently observed over at Atomic Junkshop, for all the praise Marvel gets for reinventing comics, much of its early Silver Age stuff was mediocre; the company’s rep rested on the A-list work of Spider-Man and Fantastic Four. Case in point, THOR: God of Thunder, which collects the first year and a half of  the thunder god’s Marvel run. While Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are best associated with Thor in this era, there are multiple different creators working on the strip, which explains why it’s so “meh.”

In the first story, Dr. Don Blake is trapped in a cave during the invasion of the Stone Men of Saturn. Having dropped his cane (he has a bum leg), he finds a walking stick in the cave and discovers when he strikes it on the ground he transforms into Thor, Norse god of thunder! A few issues later, Thor’s brother Loki attacks him; he and everyone in Asgard just accepts Don as the Thor (this wouldn’t be explained for a decade). Which I can overlook because bringing Asgard into the book was much more interesting than the uninspired Red agents and thugs Thor fought otherwise.

f course, even without Thor, Dr. Blake doesn’t make much sense: depending on the story he’s a brilliant neurosurgeon, a G.P. or a tech genius who builds androids. Even Asgard doesn’t help much at times — Loki runs around playing pranks much like Mxyzptlk in Superman stories. Blake becomes the first of Lee’s disability cliches, wishing he could express his love for Jane but he can’t because he’s — a cripple! Late in the book they ditch that idea in favor of having Odin forbid Thor from marrying a mortal, which would be the dominant obstacle for several years. It generated much better melodrama, as did Lee and Kirby whenever they were writing the book (from most accounts, Kirby was really down with writing about mythology). For the moment though, it’s a second string book.

MARVEL MASTERWORKS: The Human Torch suffers from similar problems, including the assorted creative teams working on it. The Golden Age Human Torch was one of Marvel’s few A-listers, so it’s not surprising they tried Johnny Stor as a solo act. The result is a stock teen superhero story (more stock than Spider-Man or Supergirl as Johnny’s not as independent — he’s still answering to the FF and particularly his sister) which even gave Johnny a secret identity in the early stories (they eventually explained “well, you wanted to have a normal teen life so we pretended we didn’t know you were the Torch.”). And it’s very weird how the Human Torch can use his flame like Green Lantern’s power ring, forming nets, saws, darts …

On the plus side, this does set up Johnny’s long frenemy relationship with Spider-Man, and introduced a number of long-running villains (Trapster, Wizard, Eel), as well as a villain impersonating Captain America (the response led to the resurrection of Cap in Avengers). Still, it wasn’t the success they’d hoped for; by the end of this collection the Thing had guest-starred and he’d soon be c0-star (and Dr. Strange had become a much superior backup feature). It didn’t help — “Agents of SHIELD” took over the slot.

As a big fan of Count of Monte Cristo, I picked up a copy of COUNT by Ibrahim Moustafa. An SF reworking, it has the protagonist, like Edmund Dantes, sentenced to life in an inescapable prison by three schemers. Years later, though, he does escape, bent on revenge, despite warnings that he should use his newly acquired wealth to make the world better, not simply satisfy his bloodlust. Will he gain revenge? Will he listen to the better angels of his nature? While I can’t say the answers are surprising, I did enjoy the telling.

WITCH DOCTOR: Under the Knife by Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner introduces us to Vincent Morrow, a doctor come occultist dealing with possession, changelings, being a Chosen One (he’d rather not be, but Excalibur picked him), Cthulhu’s fleas (“When the Great Ones came to our dimension, some creatures hitched a ride.”) and the magical bureaucracy, ably assisted by EMT Gast and freakish nurse Penny Dreadful. While I’m glad I went with a library copy than buying, What If Dr. House Became Dr. Strange made for a good read.

#SFWApro. Covers by Jack Kirby, all rights to images remain with current holder.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comics

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.