Marvel Tales # 4, cover-dated September 1966.
Marvel Tales was originally published from 1949-1957, a horror/mystery anthology in the companies Timely/Atlas period. The title was resurrected in 1964 (a logical move, since "Marvel" became the brand name associated with Martin Goodman's comics line) and the first two issues were annual publications. Beginning with Marvel Tales # 3 the comic was promoted to bi-monthly status, alternating with Marvel Collector's Item Classics, another 25 center which reprinted The Fantastic Four, along with early stories of "Iron-Man", "Doctor Strange" and The Incredible Hulk. Either Publisher Goodman or editor Stan Lee realized that the earlier superhero material was of interest to fans and would be a profitable venture.
Although the reprints were only 3-4 years old, they had the feeling of a much earlier time. This was due in great part to the changes instituted at Marvel in those few short years. In most cases the older stories had writers working over Stan Lee's plots and artists drawing from a traditional full script (exceptions in the material reprinted include Spider-Man, FF and the Hulk, which were co-plotted by Ditko and Kirby, respectively). By 1966, though, the "Marvel method" of artists working from a synopsis was in use throughout the line, with Lee and Kirby going full-throttle; combining a heightened sense of drama, heavy doses of humor, bombastic visuals, sub-plots and continued stories; supported by the likes of Roy Thomas, Dick Ayers, Gene Colan, Don Heck and John Romita. Nevertheless, these early stories had a sense of raw energy and undeniable charm that poured through every page.
The cover copy to Marvel Tales # 4 (almost certainly penned by Stan Lee) created additional excitement for an older period.
As editor, Stan Lee choose words carefully, often tinkering with his own copy until the final deadline. A comparison of the copy on a stat used in house ads that month shows just how meticulous Lee was.
On the second blurb, Lee added the word "unforgettable" before publication, creating an even stronger statement to entice readers.
Lee cut "strives to defeat" to one succinct word: "trapped".
Thor was no longer struggling, but HELPLESS, before the Tomorrow Man, although I think "against" would have been a better word than "before" (every one's a critic!)
The Torch copy was altered from "striking at" to "imprisoned"
..and finally Ant-Man wasn't doing any "smashing" but became a "human target" of that over-sized bug! Sam Rosen, who lettered the cover, deserves kudos for his calligraphic skills, although staffers Sol Brodsky or Marie Severin likely provided the last-minute corrections.
In every instance Lee altered the copy in order to create a sense of danger. I suspect Lee felt his audience would relate more to the heroes struggling with adversaries, unlike the original copy, which often pointed to a preordained victory.
The inside front cover continued the sense of a bygone age (while I'm able to scan the cover and some interior pages without undue damage to my copy, since Marvel Tales was a square bound comic the inside front cover is fragile so I'll instead quote Lee verbatim):
"On the Trail of the Tomorrow Man" Stan Lee plot; Larry Lieber script; Jack Kirby pencils; Dick Ayers inks; Jon D'Agostino letters and Stan Goldberg colors. Since I'm a stickler for details, I'll add that Sam Rosen lettered the new blurbs! Originally presented in Journey into Mystery # 86, November 1962. The splash page of every story included a large yellow arrow pointing out to readers (literally) where they were first published.
"Prisoner of The Wizard!" Stan Lee plot; Larry Lieber script; Jack Kirby pencils; Dick Ayers inks; Jon D'Agostino letters and Stan Goldberg colors. Originally presented in Strange Tales # 102, November 1962. Kirby's original interpretation of the Wizard was decidedly odd, perhaps inspired by the great character actor John Carradine.
At six years old the two stories I was transfixed by, and which, I can't deny, remain sentimental favorites to this day, are Ant-Man's confrontation (hey, I can come up with exciting verbs too!) with the Scarlet Beetle and Spider-Man's encounter with The Vulture.
"The Vengeance of the Scarlet Beetle!" Stan Lee plot; Larry Lieber script; Jack Kirby pencils; Dick Ayers inks; Artie Simek letters and Stan Goldberg colors. Originally presented in Tales to Astonish # 35, January 1963. Jack Kirby's world of ants, insects, gutters, sewers and sidewalks was familiar territory to city kids, and my introduction to Ant-Man.
The Return of the Vulture!" Stan Lee story; Steve Ditko co-plot and art; Artie Simek letters; Stan Goldberg colors. Originally presented in Amazing Spider-Man # 7, December 1963. There was a definite sense of humor in story and art in the early Spider-Man tales.The above argument between J. Jonah Jameson and the Vulture may have been inspired by the famous Jack Benny radio bit wherein a mugger confronts the cheapskate and demands; "Your money of your life!" After a very long pause, Benny replies, "I'm thinking! I'm thinking!"Steve Ditko's art was a compelling world unto itself; his characterization of the teenage Peter Parker was complimented by his use of mannerisms and expressions. Peter was a likable kid, and his adventures as Spider-Man were exciting and dramatic. While I had just started reading and enjoying the John Romita version (Amazing Spider-Man # 40, Romita's second outing on the strip, was on the stands the same month as MT # 4) Ditko's original take was available to me through my brother John's collection and future issues of Marvel Tales and I was immediately taken by his work.
Marvel Collectors' Item Classics # 4, dated August, was published in May, 1966, a month earlier than MT # 4, but since it was a bi-monthly title the chances are high that it remained on retailer shelves for an extra month. Both MCIC and Marvel Tales followed the same appealing cover design for many issues. Cover art by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, inks by Kirby and Ayers. Sam Rosen letters.
Fantasy Masterpieces # 4, dated August 1966, was on the stands the same month as Marvel Tales # 4 (and another title bought by my brother John at the aforementioned ice cream shop, possibly on the same day that MT was purchased, even though it went on sale the previous week).
Fantasy Masterpieces was the third reprint comic Marvel debuted in 1966. It began as a standard size title reprinting pre-hero monster stories, but with the third issue morphed into a 25 center spotlighting Simon and Kirby's Captain America, stories not seen in 25 years. Reprints of Sub-Mariner and the original Human Torch would soon accompany Cap. Along with the pre-hero monster tales, Fantasy Masterpieces gave many fans their first taste of the rich history of Timely/Atlas/Marvel. Jack Kirby pencils and inks. Sam Rosen letters.
Marvel Tales continued as a reprint title for decades and Spider-Man eventually became the solo feature when the comic was reduced to standard size. In 1982 Marvel Tales turned back the clock and began re-reprinting the Lee-Ditko Spider-Man's in consecutive order.
In 1966, though, Marvel Tales and its two companion mags offered children and teens a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of Goodman's line. The world was very different in those days; conventions were rare, stores devoted exclusively to comics were non-existent (used book stores, which could be found in almost any neighborhood, were often the only place to buy back issues), hardcover collections were in the distant future and the instant gratification of Ebay or Amazon was inconceivable. In that context, Marvel's reprints were an important first step in preserving the past, often doing so in consecutive order, creating a greater understanding of how the creators grew and developed over time.