Friday, November 2, 2012

Coincidences To Astonish

Back in the Silver Age of comics, when the company still had a fan club and a "Bullpen" of creative talent, Marvel Comics styled itself the "House of Ideas." Yet, until I began looking through its old mystery and suspense comics, it never occurred to me just how many of those ideas were recycled from concepts originally introduced in those stories.

I've done some home framing of Marvel artwork before, so the temptation to tackle a wall-hanging with this theme is a strong one. Some of the discoveries here are really pretty fascinating. I almost have a picture in my head of a writer at Marvel (most likely Stan Lee) in the wee hours of the night, with a box next to him of Journey Into Mystery comics, or Strange Tales, or Tales Of Suspense, or Tales To Astonish, flipping through them for an idea for a story, or most likely just a name for a hero or villain. With those bold cover captions these comics usually had, the names certainly jumped out at you. For instance, look how easily a demon from the Fifth Dimension becomes a villainous alchemist:

In addition, while the Hulk has had his share of villains with original wacky names ("Xeron, the Star-Slayer" quickly comes to mind), occasionally he's benefitted from having antagonists with names that graced other covers long before his own:

Here's just a sampling of modern-day villain names whose owners would probably be appalled that prior creatures had already stolen their limelight:

I imagine the Warlord Krang probably makes regular visits to the surface world, just for the purpose of stepping on every ant he can find.

Thor, like the Hulk, has an array of antagonists with names that would have been perfect for those old stories (I can just see "What Can Stop--ULIK??" fit right in on any cover). So it wasn't a surprise to find some of his stories engaging in this practice. Sporr, for instance:

A mindless amoeba in the original story, but a benevolent alien (though tragically slain) in a Thor story. The artist didn't even alter the appearance of Sporr all that much--I mean, a blob with tentacles doesn't really need all that much refinement. Yet have a look at a more curious coincidence here--Thor, himself. Not only would he find his name in use in a prior Tales To Astonish story, but the character of "Thorr" actually resembles--get this--the Stone Men of Saturn, Thor's first foes!

Later, in what almost looks like an attempt to cover its tracks in its digital recreation of the Stone Men story, Marvel changes the color of the Stone Men from their original orange to green:

Original story

Digital story

And the icing on this cake? Thanks to the eagle eye of a friend who brought it to my attention, check out this apparent typo in our hero's name in the last panel of Thor's origin story:

There were also instances where these mystery stories seemingly provided inspiration for future characters. The most obvious example would be Ant-Man, who was almost the victim of his own size-reducing serum but went on to perfect it and become a costumed adventurer:

And tell me if this guy's features look at all familiar to you:

Doom's old enemy, the Thing, also found himself inspirational--particularly to artist Jack Kirby, who drew both the cover to a Strange Tales story featuring "The Thing," as well as the first cover of Fantastic Four. Notice the similarities between the two:

As for whether or not two mainstream Marvel characters got their inspiration from these two predecessors:

I'm afraid we may have to live with the "mystery."


Kid said...

That was fun to read. Incidentally, regarding the last panel of Thor's origin - that was a paste-up - the original panel was different. (It's somewhere on my blog.)

Comicsfan said...

Yes, I guess they wanted to "hammer home" the character's name a little more prominently, eh? Though you have to wonder how the spelling slip made it to the final product if the panel was under such editing scrutiny.

Longbox Graveyard said...

Love this ... some serious Marvel Comics scholarship here. I just read that Hulk/Glob issue last week and didn't realize it had a heritage reaching back to Marvel's monster books. The script was by Roy Thomas and he was a past master at raiding Marvel's old library for plot lines and characters. In Sean Howe's book, "Marvel Comics: The Untold Story," there's a quote from Roy saying he made a point of reinventing old Marvel IP instead of creating characters of his own because, in part, it would have driven him crazy to see an original creation of his own enjoy wild success at Marvel if he didn't own a part of it.

And so ... we get more Glob! Brilliant!

Comicsfan said...

I liked a lot of those old Roy Thomas stories in Incredible Hulk, because Thomas seemed to know how to deal a powerhouse like the Hulk in to really good, substantive tales that stood on their own. I mean, you couldn't have the Hulk battle the Army every issue, or go up against other heroes or familiar villains all the time--that would get old fairly quickly. So we had interesting detours with characters like the Glob, or Jarella, or Xeron. And stories like Doc Samson's introduction, or how Banner and the Hulk split into two beings (and where we met Jim Wilson, with whom the Hulk strikes up a bond). And look at his encounter with the Valkyrie--totally out of left field.

And when the Hulk did battle a prominent Marvel villain, Thomas was able to translate that same unique blend to that format, as well. Look at the story you profiled with the Sandman, where both the Sandman and Betty Ross take more of center stage than the Hulk. Or the Hulk's battle with Iron Man, where the underlying issue of trust with Jim Wilson was the greater story. Or the Hulk's involvement with the Undying Ones, which would eventually reach all the way to the publication of The Defenders. In a way, those early issues might well have been called "Tales to Astonish--Featuring the Hulk." :) They were great reading.