Friday, March 13, 2020

Symbolic Splash Pages: The Early Years

As an encore to our series on symbolic splash pages, the PPC wraps up this nostalgic look at the opening pages to a number of classic issues from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s by rounding up some of the earliest stories of Iron Man, Captain America, Dr. Strange, and the Hulk, at the time when they were building their reading audiences within the pages of Tales Of Suspense, Strange Tales, and Tales To Astonish--appearances which only numbered around twelve pages per issue, but served as stepping stones to hopefully something more. All of these characters went on to star in their own solo series--the Hulk having already been given his shot in 1962 only to disappear after just six issues, while Captain America was attempting to segue into the budding world of Marvel super-heroes after having helmed a successful series of his own during the 1940s.

Here you'll find on display the talents of Steve Ditko, Don Heck, and Jack Kirby, along with early appearances of the Black Widow, the Melter, the Red Skull...

...and, in November of 1964, Captain America, a hero Jack Kirby unleashes accordingly.

By now, of course, Cap was already established in The Avengers--yet here he joins Iron Man in sharing the Tales Of Suspense title, where he's given the opportunity to take the spotlight on his own merits without his fellow Avengers in the mix. As we can see, Kirby and writer Stan Lee would initially focus on Cap's wartime experiences.

As for Iron Man, artist Don Heck seems to excel in crafting these symbolic pages, overshadowing even Kirby's offerings from early 1963.

(The PPC has previously featured profiles of the Melter, the Mad Pharaoh, Kala, Queen of the Netherworld, and the "first" Doctor Strange, while highlighting the role of Mister Doll in forcing Iron Man to ditch his golden armor in favor of a suit better suited to combat. Out of sheer curiosity, I'm almost certain I'll succumb to cracking open that Gargantus story one of these days.)

Ditko's work in Strange Tales lends an air of both mystery and danger to the "Master of Black Magic," Dr. Strange. His opening page from "The House of Shadows!", so simple in its presentation yet so effectively able to build anticipation for the story within, still impresses me to this day. In some of Ditko's offerings here, you can come away wondering if Strange's principal enemy is Baron Mordo or the dread Dormammu--so it certainly seemed fitting that, for a number of stories, the two would join forces at some point.

The Hulk is the one character who you'd think could have benefited from the promotional aspect of symbolic splash pages, though in his Tales To Astonish appearances they were practically nonexistent. Even Ditko seemed at a loss as to how to present him, given what he had to work with.

Pages from Tales To Astonish #60, and Incredible Hulk #6

We'd have to return to the Hulk's 1962-63 series to find a few more of these pages, this time by Kirby--who also renders what may have been the character's first pin-up page, appearing in Tales To Astonish #62.


dangermash said...

Something there that has puzzled me for years.

There's a splash page there to an Iron Man story called "Suspected Of Murder" that has bugged me for t(e last 50 years. In that story, Iron Man's heart condition has worsened to the extent that he has to wear his armour all the time. Now, did this mean that (i) he had to wear his torso/chest plate all the time, or (ii) he had to wear his whole suit of armour all the time?

If (i) then, what's changed? I thought this was the status quo anyway. Maybe he could remove the torso for a couple of minutes when ditching an old set or armour and putting on a new set but no more. If he left off t(e armour for a few hours, wasn't there so e piece of shrapnel that would have gone on to pierce his heart?

And if (ii), wtf? Why does he need to wear helmet, gloves, etc?

It's all sounding like some jumbled up writing, full of contradictions.

George Chambers said...

dangermash, if I remember correctly, Tony had to wear the entire suit, helmet, gloves and all, for about 2 issues of SUSPENSE. Supposedly, Tony's heart was so weakened at this time that the chestplate alone was no longer enough and the "additional transistors" in the rest of the suit were necessary to keep him going - that was, until Tony had a brainstorm and upgraded the chestplate. I think the purpose of all this was to create a subplot where Pepper and Happy suspected Iron Man of murdering Tony and taking over his holdings. I think Stan Lee realised that the subplot couldn't continue for long, hence the return to status quo.

Comicsfan said...

George has nailed it, I think. Iron Man had installed belt pods to boost his power while battling the Black Knight, only to find later that his heart had become accustomed to the additional power and he was reluctant to take the chance of removing the suit out of fear of triggering a fatal heart attack. I suppose we can take that to mean that extra power = more reliability in impeding movement of the shrapnel? I'm beginning to sympathize with your take on the situation, dangermash!

dangermash said...

Ok, so it was (ii). Still very weird that he needs the extra transistors in his gloves to help his heart not give in.

Anonymous said...

"Captain America - The Most Enthusiastically Requested Character Revival Of All Time". Really? Had the kids reading Marvel in the early '60s actually ever heard of Captain America? More likely Marvel revived Cap then trotted out the old "Because You Demanded It" line :D

In 1978 I bought a paperback-sized Dr. Strange "digest" featuring the earliest stories from Strange Tales, including most of the splash pages shown today. My favourite of them all was "The House Of Shadows" and, by a weird coincidence, I was thinking about that very story just a couple of days ago!

Big Murr said...

That was a quickfire up and down moment.

"Iron Man in the stronghold of Dr. Strange"?? Holy smokies! What kind of early crossover did I miss? Mr. Golden Transistor vs the Blue Caped Master of the Mystic Arts! WOW!



Tiboldt said...

Considering how pathetic Mr. Doll was, that story had a massive effect on Iron Man's look.

I'm still looking forward to his return, at least until I find out where he gets his headgear from.

Also note how fearsome my namesake, the Ringmaster, looks before going into combat against the Hulk. Classic.

Comicsfan said...

Colin, that caption was probably referring to the requests that presumably poured in via letters requested from readers who had enjoyed the bogus return of Cap from the prior issue--letters that were all read and acted upon to produce a story of the real Cap's debut, just in time for publication in the very next issue. That's some service, eh? ;)