Tuesday, June 24, 2014

50 Summers Ago: Marvel Tales Annual # 1

In the Summer of 1964 Marvel produced it's first compilation of super-hero reprints, reviving the name of a long running title: 

      Fred Kida cover art to the final issue, Image from the Grand Comic Book Database. 

Originally beginning as Marvel Comics, Martin Goodman's first foray into comic books in 1939, the title changed to Marvel Mystery Comics with its second issue, featuring the original Human Torch, Sub-Mariner, the Angel, Vision and other characters until issue # 92, June 1949. In the following issue Marvel Mystery Comics became Marvel Tales, reflecting the change in content to horror/mystery and running until issue # 157, August 1957.

Marvel Tales Annual # 1 graced newsstands in early June of 1964. It should be pointed out that while the stories included in the Annual were only a few years old, many fans had missed them the first time around and could only hope to purchase the originals in a used book store or second hand shop. In those long-ago days there was no Ebay, Comic Book Shops or even comic conventions.Jack Kirby pencils; Sol Brodsky inks, Sam Rosen letters and Stan Goldberg colors. The Spider-Man figure is drawn by Steve Ditko, taken from Amazing-Spider-Man Annual 1, page 14; panel 2. I wonder if Kirby drew a Spidey figure and it was replaced by a Ditko image?

Seven years later, either Editor Stan Lee or Publisher Martin Goodman decided to revive the name once again, utilizing the same logo design and returning the title to its superhero roots. Just three years earlier Fantastic Four # 1 proved a resounding success, and costumed characters began uprooting the monsters in the anthology titles. By 1964 the new heroes were an essential part of Marvel's line, with only the western and teen-romance strips remaining. The Marvel Tales Annual was an easy way to introduce their top features to a growing audience. 

A most unusual adventure series begins. Stan Lee co-plot and dialogue; Artie Simek letters, Stan Goldberg colors. 

One can only imagine the impression that a young person felt on a warm summers day when they opened up Marvel Tales Annual # 1, particularly if this was the first time they encounter these characters. After admiring a cover filled with heroic and colorful figures they open the comic and observe the image of an isolated teenager standing on a street corner; his peers mocking him with venomous glee. 

Peter Parker gains extraordinary powers but is overwhelmed by tragedy and guilt. Each story ends with a new editorial note, likely penned by Stan Lee. Marvel Tales Annual # 1 was on-sale the same month as Amazing Spider-Man # 16 and the first Spider-Man Annual. In just two years since its debut the oddly-garbed hero made a strong impression on its audience and became a top-selling title for Martin Goodman's comic book line. 

Lee and Kirby introduce the Hulk, clearly influenced by Boris Karloff's rendition of the Frankenstein Monster as seen in the 1931 Universal movie and its sequels. Although Lee could have chosen to re-color the Hulk in his recognizable green hues he instead added a new note explaining "why" he originally had gray skin. Paul Reinman inks, Artie Simek lettering , Stan Goldberg colors. 

Kirby's cinematic eye is evident in this three panel shot, as The Hulk fades into the night with his teenage companion Rick Jones in pursuit. While it's true that the origins are "uncut" as the cover copy states, many of the stories have been truncated. The bottom blurb promotes the Hulk's revival as a feature in Tales to Astonish which debuted the following month.

Henry Pym was first introduced in Tales to Astonish # 27, but that tale was skipped over, likely due to space considerations and the fact that he did not become the costumed Ant-Man until his series debuted in TTA # 35. Stan Lee plot; Larry Lieber script; Jack Kirby pencils; Dick Ayers inks; Joe Letterese lettering; Stan Goldberg colors.  

                        The final Ant-Man panel segues into the introduction of Giant-Man.

Although Ant-Man's metamorphosis into Giant-Man occurred only eight months earlier, a two-page recap was deemed appropriate to keep new readers up to date. Lee and Kirby story/art, Don Heck inks, Sam Rosen letters and Stan Goldberg colors.

Although Sgt. Fury was a war title it followed the frenetic pacing of the superhero line, as this splash page clearly illustrates. Despite the blurb, the story was not "exactly as it appeared in Sgt. Fury # 1," since only six pages were featured. It would take seventeen years before Marvel finally published a complete reprinting of the first issue, closing the circle by appearing in the last issue of Sgt. Fury, which ended its long run with # 167, December 1981. Lee and Kirby story/art, Dick Ayers inks, Artie Simek lettering, Stan G. colors.       ember

The priceless image of Dum Dum Dugan calmly covering his ears and parachuting to earth as a plane explodes behind him illustrates the often comical aspects of Sgt. Fury. 


A growing fan base was apparent to Stan Lee from the many fanzines and letters he received in the early years of the Marvel hero titles. By this point it had been several years since Lee included a credit box on the splash page of practically every Marvel comic that included the artists, inkers and letterers. Lee often chatted up staffers Stan Goldberg, Flo Steinberg, Sol Brodsky and even publisher Martin Goodman in the letters pages. The two pages of photos presented most of Marvel's then current "bullpen," although the majority worked at home as freelancers. I wonder if Lee made a Freudian slip or deliberately wrote: "First, Let's polish off the Big Brass.."  

Once again, Lee decided to retain the original coloring of Iron-Man's armor. Artist Don Heck introduces Iron-Man to the world (although Jack Kirby designed the initial costume), a character he would be closely associated with in its early years. plot by Stan Lee; script by Larry Lieber,lettering by Artie Simek, coloring by Stan Goldberg. 

Tony Stark begins his career as the man of steel (or is that phrase already taken?) 

The four page sequence that introduced Iron-Man's sleek new costume, designed by Steve Ditko, is reprinted. While it's noted that the armor continued to be modified, the basic design has remained consistent for decades. Stan Lee script/co-plot, Dick Ayers inks, Sam Rosen letters, Stan Goldberg colors. 

An impressive introduction to Thor by co-creator-artist Jack Kirby, with destinctive inking by Joe Sinnott. Stan Lee plot, Larry Lieber script, Artie Simek letters and Stan Goldberg colors. An error in the original publication date appears with numbers reversed: Thor actually debuted in Journey into Mystery # 83!

Lee retained - and pointed out - the "Thorr" spelling error in the last panel, gaining audience approval for his imperfections. What many might not be aware of is that a page of original art exists where the copy in the last panel is completely different. 

Apparently the idea to institute Thor as a continuing feature was decided at the last minute. Sales from other super hero features must have given Martin Goodman faith that Thor would sell. If that was the case, he was certainly proven correct.    

Marvel Tales Annual # 1 concluded with a house ad promoting the heroes in their respective titles, reusing art from the cover. Marvel Tales returned the following year, including the origins that were skipped here: Avengers # 1, X-Men # 1 and Dr. Strange's origin from Strange Tales # 115. (Daredevil # 1 would be reprinted the following year in a one-shot title, Marvel Super-Heroes, which may be the subject of a future post).  Also included in the second Marvel Tales Annual was a Hulk story from his first series and a delightful Lee-Ditko fantasy thriller from Amazing Adult Fantasy

Cover to the 1965 Marvel Tales Annual # 2 utilizing panels from the interior stories. Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko pencils; Dick Ayers, Paul Reinman and Ditko inks, Sam Rosen lettering, Stan Goldberg coloring.   

With the third issue Marvel Tales was revived as an ongoing, bi-monthly title, retaining its 25 cent format and reprinting Spider-Man, the Human Torch, Ant-Man and Thor. It later switched to a standard format and continued to sequentially reprint Spider-Man stories for decades. 

 Marvel Tales Annual # 1 represents an era that is almost inconceivable today, when access to old stories and comics in the form of expensive hardcover editions or trade paperbacks is prevalent. There was an almost mythic quality to the nascent Marvel line, a combination of raw talent, alluring charm and rambunctious, seat-of-the-pants energy that could not be duplicated. It was idiomatic of the creative juices that flowed abundantly in the early 1960's. For a kid with a quarter in his pocket a journey to the corner candy store could be the investment of a lifetime.          


Unknown said...

Love it Nick. I think the Spidey image on the cover is standard Ditko some of the others appear to be the corner icons. That Iron Man may have been Ditko pencils and Ayers inks. I'm just not sure.

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Bob,

Glad you're enjoying the posts. There may be some more summer fun to come!

Kid said...

There may be? There'd better be! You can't tease us like that, Nick - we're on tenterhooks waiting for future posts and you're playing hard to get. Get writing, man. (Whaddya mean, you've got a life to live?)

Nick Caputo said...

Kid, Don't get spoiled now! The summer is just beginning!

CheckMait said...

Great piece, Nick. And that alternate final panel is an amazing find.

Nick Caputo said...

Thanks CheckMait, glad you enjoyed the post!