Friday, June 16, 2017

The Comic For The More Mature Reader

Aside from its place in comics history as the title that gave us the first appearance of Spider-Man, Amazing Fantasy has an interesting history all its own. Following in the footsteps of comics like Strange Tales, Tales Of Suspense, and others that told stories of the bizarre, the extraterrestrial, and the supernatural, the title was first billed as Amazing Adult Fantasy and attempted to market itself by targeting older and more sophisticated readers, featuring stories and art by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and a cover blurb that boasted, "The Magazine That Respects Your Intelligence." (And in case you weren't intelligent enough to have spotted it on the cover, that caption was repeated on the issue's contents page.)

Picking up a copy, however, you'd be hard-pressed to pin down what set AAF apart from its similarly-themed predecessors. Each issue featured multiple tales; the stories contained shock endings, or something with a twist, or some other aspect that highlighted the unexpected; and the story titles were no more sophisticated than the bill you would find at a carnival sideshow. But Lee, in his description of the book in Origins Of Marvel Comics, seemed to feel he was producing something new and different--perhaps because he had chosen Ditko to handle the art exclusively as opposed to Jack Kirby or Don Heck, while also toning down the emphasis on colossal, world-conquering monsters.

To give you some perspective, AAF was launched at the same time that Marvel was just getting its feet wet with publishing super-hero titles, with AAF released just one month following the debut of Fantastic Four--though no doubt you were *ahem* intelligent enough to notice the incredible similarity in their logo styles. (Perhaps the real reason why "ADULT" appears to have been slapped onto the AAF masthead like an afterthought.) With heroes like Thor (in Journey Into Mystery), Ant-Man (Tales To Astonish), Iron Man (Tales Of Suspense), and The Avengers (in that order) not making their appearances until late 1962 and 1963, the only other "super-hero" title on the racks in the Marvel section was Incredible Hulk in May, 1962, putting it near the end of AAF's run in July. Aside from the lack of an unexpected twist in its continuing tale, Incredible Hulk (drawn by Ditko in its sixth and final issue) would have fit in AAF like a glove, with its lumbering monster who appeared at night and who was somehow a manifestation of the helpless scientist who found himself the victim of a living nightmare.

Lee's experiment with AAF appeared to be in jeopardy with its tenth issue, as Lee explains:

The reference Lee makes to soaring sales of "the superhero magazines" is unclear; the launch of Incredible Hulk was still two months away, which would have made Fantastic Four the only hero-based title on the racks. At that point the FF mag was on its fifth issue, and by most accounts sales of the book had indeed taken off quickly--but there was still no evidence to sustain the belief that AAF was bucking some sort of trend, unless Lee and publisher Martin Goodman were convinced by the sales of FF that super-hero comics were the company's future. (The disappointing sales of Incredible Hulk, cancelled after only six issues, certainly wouldn't have contributed to that decision.) In any event, AAF was marked for cancellation with its fifteenth issue--and with the mag's impending pull date, Lee saw the opportunity for another experiment.

Needless to say, that new character had a startling name--and this new hero would appeal to the average comic book buyer as no other(s) would.

Yet the new headliner for Amazing Fantasy, along with the book's (nicely) redesigned masthead, were only two of the changes made in a book that was no longer going to be produced--a dead-on-arrival status you'd never know by the promotional blitz indicated not only by the cover blurb promising "the NEW Amazing," but by the detailed note to readers inside:

Given that AF was, in Lee's words, "doomed... the last issue before its preordained demise," the assertion of the Editor's note that Marvel was taking their valued readers into their confidence, only to make implications of future issues that were never intended to materialize, is a perplexing choice of words. For instance, had Spider-Man flopped in his AF appearance, whatever readers were still on board with AF would have been abandoned, for all intents and purposes. If that behavior sounds familiar to you, you're probably thinking of Silver Surfer #18, where similar misleading methods were used to indicate that all was well with the mag.

Yet in terms of AF's sales, all certainly was well, as far as Lee and Goodman were concerned.

With the experiment of Amazing Adult Fantasy having eventually helped to point the company in its new direction, the rest of Marvel's monster mags fell in line in shifting to hero-based stories. By the time Amazing Spider-Man was launched, the new hero was joining Marvel's budding lineup of super-hero titles which now included Thor, Ant-Man, and the newly-appearing Iron Man, with the Avengers only a few months away--all spearheaded by the still-popular Fantastic Four title (which that month just happened to be making use of their popularity to provide new exposure for the incredible Hulk, making a guest appearance). In a sense, even though Amazing Spider-Man didn't make its appearance as a new title until after the fact, the character himself ended up playing an important part in the line of books that would define the company for decades to come. And isn't it cool, and fitting, that the word "Amazing" was transplanted to the masthead of Spidey's new series. ;)

The cover to AAF #9, alongside a variant cover by Daniel Brereton for the AAF Omnibus.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm with Stan on this--I never liked teen sidekicks either. Talk about child endangerment!
But I think Rick Jones was kinda necessary for the Hulk. Let's face it, the Hulk's not a talkative guy, and somebody's gotta deliver the exposition. Maybe that's why ol' Greenskin has had his share of travelling companions, like Jim Wilson or Crackajack Jackson.
Interesting article. I wonder why superheroes came back in the Sixties after a long dry spell. Maybe it had something to do with D.C. revamping their heroes and making them more "space age." It reflected the culture, when everybody had a T.V., a blender, and were worried about Sputniks, and mutated monsters and giant insects.