Monday, 29 June 2020


All images their respective owners

While my book is called "The Marvel Age Companion", the most important part of it, for me, is the "Being There" section which describes my journey of reading comics during the Silver Age, and then discovering that there was a GOLDEN AGE!!!!!  I wasn't born with that information.

Fantastic Four #4 (1962) mentioned that The Sub-Mariner had been a comic book character of the 1940s.  In the late summer of 1963, Strange Tales #114 trumpeted a character "from out of the Golden Age" named Captain America.  I had never heard of him.

For comic book fans the most important book of all time was Jules Feiffer's Great Comic Book Heroes.  Along with a brilliant essay there were a dozen stories from the Forties.  Superman and Batman (with a murderous Joker no less) were reprinted.  There were also the origins of The Flash, Green Lantern and Plastic Man, a one-page Captain Marvel tale and The Spirit.  These were the guys inventing the formulas, not following them. And they had no Comics Code censoring anything.  People got killed, villains were not always caught and women were, well, sexier.

The first use of the words "Golden Age" referring to the comics of the 1940s was by Richard A. Lupoff in an article called "Re-Birth" in Comic Art #1, page 5, "They came in the thirties, their golden age was in the forties.  They declined in the fifties...."

In December 1965, Superman #183, an 80-Page Giant, reprinted three Golden Age stories.  DC also soon reprinted a Golden Age Batman Sunday comic strip.  DC tried to hide the fact that their Golden Age characters were cut from a different cloth.  For example, in a 1960 Giant, DC republished a page (that's it, just one page of Joe Shuster art) from Superman #1.  In 1939, a caption from that original story read: "Nothing less than a bursting shell could pierce his skin."  The reprint was altered to read: "Not even a bursting shell could pierce his skin."  DC did not reprint many examples of their Golden Age material until the 1970s.  The DC annuals also reprinted some Batman comic strip pages which were beautiful.

In "The Flash of Two Worlds" (The Flash #123, Sep. 1961) and their "Crisis" series in Justice League, DC began to re-introduce the Golden Age heroes and integrate them into their current storytelling.  Giving themselves a clean slate to start their new age, Marvel referred to their Golden Age continuity only three times in the Marvel Age period: Fantastic Four Annual #4 and Sub-Mariner #8 and #14.  Marvel's 1950's Atlas era was referred to twice, in  Captain America #153-155 and with the arrival of the "newest" Black Knight in Marvel Super-Heroes #17.  Near the end of the Marvel Age, The Invaders, in 1975, presented a retelling of Namor's origin.

The Human Torch had his roots in the Marvel Age, so did many other Marvel characters including Mr. Fantastic.  In Mystic Comics #1, 1940 an "elastic" hero named The Thin Man appeared for one issue, a year before Plastic Man.

My path to the EC comics was not a straight one.  First, Mad magazine was always in my life.  I was able to read many of the original stories in the Ballantine (I think) paperbacks of the time.  They were old, but they were current and funny.  I had read a great deal about EC, all bad, I might add, but the 1960s was an era without comic book stores and I just couldn't find them.

In the late 1960s I had read a bunch that a neighbor had and they were all the EC horror.  Not really my cup of tea.  But I was able to see a few EC Sci- Fi stories in reprints and enjoyed them.  Around 1980 Russ Cochran began reprinting the EC comics and I bought the Sci-Fi ones and loved them!  I was not a fan of 1960s war comics.  When I read the EC war comics by Kurtzman, I thought they were terrific. So I wound up a big EC fan and I collected everything that Cochran put out.  And forgive me if I cannot decide which I like best, the colour or black and white editions.

An era should have these qualities - recognition of quality and originality, coupled with an increase in sales.  The Golden Age ended for a reason.  The stories were no longer as good or as original.  The industry lost not only its villains (the Nazis) when the war ended, but also a huge amount of readers when soldiers returned home to civvy street and thus no longer read comics in their barracks to pass the time, having become interested in other things.

But I do believe that the 1950s was the EC era of comics.  There may be some rivals, but nothing has surpassed them.

Early in 1966 Fantasy Masterpieces doubled its page count (and the cost to 25¢) and added Captain America stories from the 1940s.  And what great stories these were!!!  "The Hunchback", "The Plundering Butterfly", and "Ivan the Terrible".  Years later I learned that the artwork was often changed to meet the standards of the Comics Code. 

In the King-Size Special Marvel Super-Heroes #1 (1966) reprinted a Golden Age story of the original Human Torch and The Sub-Mariner fighting each other (and destroying New York City in the process).  In Fantasy Masterpieces #7 (Feb 1967), a Torch story from Marvel Mystery #8 and a Sub-Mariner story from issue #3 (both from 1940) were published. Fantasy Masterpieces #9 featured the first Torch story, from 1939.   And the issue after that had the All Winners Squad.

Marvel Boy by Bill Everett began reprints in Marvel Tales #14, in 1967. FM #11 featured the introduction of The Black Knight.  Marvel had comics in the 1950s too!! Issue #12 had a name change to Marvel Super-Heroes and featured the stories from the Atlas Era. It was a different looking Captain America, Torch and Sub-Mariner - in shorter stories and told in a very different style.

The 1950s characters went through changes, though neither Toro nor Bucky aged any.  Young Men #24 took the time to explain where The Human Torch was ever since his original comic was cancelled.  It did the same with Captain America and Sub-Mariner.  So there were two previous generations of Marvel characters, not just one.

But Marvel stopped publishing these glorious stories with issue #20 (1969).  Roy Thomas later told me that the sales of the Marvel Super-Heroes mag was never good.  Only issue #14 (Spider-Man) sold well. 

But how great it was in 1966 to get the best of both worlds.  Actually, I got the best of three worlds.


McSCOTTY said...

Nice post Barry. One of the things I always loved about American comics was the history of the characters, particularly DC as I was more aware of them as a kid growing up. I always enjoyed it when the JSA popped up in the JLA in the 60s early 70s or another golden age character appeared in many of their other comics especially when they were drawn a little older (Superman with grey temples etc) . I still remember not quite getting the Earth 2 thing when I was really young but being totally fascinated by it all. By the time I was reading MARVEL their comics were all new to me so I wasn’t aware of their Golden Age origin and when reprinted. To be honest I never liked those stories as much as the DC stable of oldies some of which were excellent.

Kid said...

Thanks for commenting, McS. I was puzzled by the hitherto lack of response, as most of Barry's guest posts usually generate quite a number of replies. Hopefully, you've now started things off.

Phil S said...

Fantasy Masterpieces had awful printing . The artwork looked like mud. And be honest the art wasn't very good. You must remember at the time it was the height of Marvel, with Kirby, Steranko, Colan etc. and Marvel was trying to sell early Kirby? Burgos? Not good work.

Kid said...

I don't think it was the actual printing that was at fault, PS, so much as the bog-standard sources they were printing from, with awful 'touch-ups' to boot. Considering that Simon and Kirby only did 10 issues of Captain America before leaving, I've often wondered how much credit they can take for the ongoing success of the character.

Sure they deserve credit for creating him (and even then, Simon claims do have done that by himself), but their absence didn't seem to dent sales as far as I know, and it wasn't until the war was over that circulation started to take a serious dip - which would likely still have happened had S&K still been onboard.

When you look at many of the fondly-remembered titles they started that only lasted a handful of issues (or just over), it appears that the mags weren't as successful as readers from back in the day seem to remember. However, when it came to reprinting them in the '60s, I suppose it was a cheap way of filling a mag.

Dave S said...

Interesting article. I've always felt that Marvel preferred their pre-1961 stories not to have too much attention. I really enjoyed the Fantasy Masterpieces/ Marvel Super-Heroes reprints that I read very early in my comics-collecting life, the Original Human Torch and All Winners stories really appealed to me because I've always liked things that feel like they have a history behind them.

I had always been of the opinion that while DC periodically rebooted their universe, Marvel never did- reading Barry's post makes me realise that Marvel effectively done it more than two decades before Crisis on Infinite Earths!

Thanks Barry!

Kid said...

I'm sure that Barry will be glad to know you enjoyed his post, DS. Marvel found a way to explain the '50s Captain America stories by making him and Bucky 'stand-ins', but as far as I know, they never explained the '50s adventures of Sub-Mariner and The Torch. If they did, they passed me by.

Dave S said...

I think that the Saga of the Original Human Torch limited series in the early 90s explained at least some of his 50s adventures and filled in the gap between then and the character being reintroduced in the West Coast Avengers.

Kid said...

Think I read some of those issues, but I lost track of continuity over the years because The Vision's android body was supposed to be the original Human Torch's, but then that was changed (if I recall correctly), and I can't remember if that was later undone or not.

I'll have to read my Sub-Mariner reprints to remind myself of his 'retro-continuity'. Where's my scorecard?

Dave S said...

The Vision was supposed to be the original Human Torch, then John Byrne revealed that Vizh was in fact made from the Torch's spare parts, although I believe that was later retconned (a word first coined by Roy Thomas, btw) again.

Kid said...

Things get more and more confusing as time goes by, DS. DC are the worst for retconning and rebooting their characters - they've done it so many times I've lost interest.

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