Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Appreciating Don Heck

My introduction to Don Heck’s art began in the mid-1960s, where he was thrust into Marvel's growing assemblage of superheroes, including "Iron Man," "Ant-Man," and The Avengers. Reprints in Fantasy Masterpieces educated me on Heck's stylish monster/science-fiction short stories, which, while published only six or seven years prior, seemed to my youthful eyes like artifacts from an ancient age. As my collecting interests grew, I became aware of his facility in an array of genres, including romance, war and westerns. Through fanzines and interviews I learned of his beginnings, both the high-points and pitfalls of toiling in the comic book field. Heck struggled at times to retain his more humanistic, somewhat quirky approach while adhering to the company standard. As a result he often didn't get the choice assignments and was passed over for younger, more popular artists. What I would contend here, though, is that his contributions to the field are significant and deserving of a more thorough evaluation.       

Don Heck’s earliest work was published in 1952 at Comic Media, where his striking covers and interior stories made an impact on such titles as Weird Terror, War Fury, Horrific, All True Romance, Death Valley and Danger. The latter title is noteworthy, for it was there that he was awarded his first feature, "Duke Douglas," a spy series that appeared in issues 7-11. Heck's esthetics and storytelling sense were inspired by master cartoonist Milton Caniff, acclaimed in the field for his newspaper strip Terry and the Pirates. 

While Heck's first forays in the medium had a stiff quality and the positioning of figures was sometimes awkward, he was clearly growing as a sequential storyteller. This story shows a Jack Davis influence. "Full Moon," Weird Terror # 5, May 1953.  Image from Comic Book Plus: http://comicbookplus.com/?dlid=38881   

This western cover (along with the image directly below) is indicative of the more lurid graphic scenes comic books offered during the pre-Code era. Death Valley # 2, December 1953.

 Many of Heck's covers for Comic Media were infused with an intense mood, lush brushwork and an angularity that mirrored the camerawork in such diverse cinematic fare as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), The Wolfman (1941) and Kiss of Death (1947). Weird Terror # 11, May 1954. 


Heck's composition has a movie poster quality and the "leading man" is reminiscent of Bulldog Drummond or The Saint (The cover immediately brought James Bond to mind, but that spy would not appear in films for another decade, although Ian Fleming's first book, Casino Royale, was published about a year before this comic was on sale.) Danger # 11, August 1954. 

In addition to Comic Media, Heck also freelanced for Harvey, Toby Press and US Pictoral, publisher of the one-shot Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion, adapted from the 1955-57 syndicated TV series starring Buster Crabbe. As I noted previously, Heck's art was greatly influenced by Milton Caniff.     

In late 1954 Heck began a long association with Stan Lee, the Editor and chief helmsman of Atlas (which would later become better known as Marvel). Lee took note of Heck's versatility and had the artist working steadily on a variety of subject matter: western, war, horror, crime, romance, jungle tales – you name it – all produced with a high level of professionalism. Heck was soon awarded ongoing features in Navy Action ("Torpedo Taylor") and Jann of the Jungle ("Cliff Mason"). Heck’s war stories were particularly strong, as his visual skills were well suited to tales of heroic adventure. 

"Torpedo Taylor" was a favorite assignment of Heck's. This page demonstrates a young artist with confidence in his abilities. "Get that Sub!", Navy Combat # 10, December 1956.

Heck didn't get the opportunity to pencil Atlas' ongoing westerns (Kid Colt Outlaw, Two Gun Kid, Outlaw Kid, Rawhide Kid, Wyatt Earp, etc.) since Lee already had a stable of regulars assigned to those books. However, he often illustrated the short non-series tales that filled out each title. One exception was The Kid from Dodge City, which was unfortunately cancelled after only two issues, a victim of company wide cutbacks. While Heck's art was not as detailed or authentic as contemporary John Severin's, his cowboy stories were filled with "actors" straight out of central casting and stoic heroes reminiscent of Gary Cooper. 

 Heck's scratchiness was perfectly suited to the gritty atmosphere that typified western fare. His characters, clothing and settings echoed (and were no doubt inspired by) the movies he watched as a child and adult. "The Day of the Gun Duel!," Gunsmoke Western # 41, June 1957.   

Heck excelled on the one-shot title Police Badge # 479 (September 1955). He drew two stories starring a rookie cop, sinking his teeth into an exciting strip that featured dynamic layouts, attractive pencils and atmospheric inks. I have no doubt that Heck would have produced an excellent ongoing feature had this comic continued.  

A dramatic splash page to "Night Rain,"  Police Badge # 479, September 1955.

Heck could switch gears easily, showing his proclivity for fashion, design and attractive women in such titles as Love Romances, My Own Romance and Teen-Age Romance. Heck enjoyed working on fantasy and space opera, contributing to Mystic, Strange Worlds, Journey into Mystery, World of Fantasy, Strange Tales, Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish.

Heck conveys  a mixture of beauty and vulnerability in the demeanor of the woman who dominates this opening page. "Incident in the Rain!," Love Romances # 102, November 1962. Heck: "I couldn't draw girls at all in the beginning - that was my worst feature, and me a fan of Caniff's! I decided I'd better start learning."  

An example of Heck's elegant science-fiction work. “Rocket Ship X”, Strange Tales # 69, June 1959.

An air of menace prevails on this splash page, heightened by Heck's positioning of the robot in the foreground (Stan Goldberg's coloring doesn't hurt either!) Artie Simek lettering. Tales to Astonish # 11, September 1960.    

Two pages that are indicative of Heck's employment of favorite "character actors," expressive mood and "cinematography," enhanced by Stan Goldberg's evocative coloring. Page 3 and 4 of "Something Lurks in the Fog!," Tales of Suspense # 24, December 1961.  

While continuing to draw fantasy, western and romance stories, in 1962 Stan Lee added superheroes to Heck's resume. Lee's primary artist-collaborator, Jack Kirby, couldn’t handle the workload of drawing every title, although he created Iron Man's initial uniform (used as the cover of Tales of Suspense # 39, March 1963). Heck penciled the debut story and modeled Tony Stark's image in the mold of debonair actor Errol Flynn. Heck's expertise in depicting ordinary people served him well. He devised supporting players Happy Hogan (a stoic chap whose appearance may have been influenced by comedian Buster Keaton) and Pepper Potts, who Heck noted was visually based on actress Ann B. Davis. The two bickering employees of Stark Enterprises brought an element of much-needed humor to the grim surroundings.

Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts from their introduction in Tales of Suspense # 45, September 1963. Stan Lee plot; Robert Bernstein script; Heck art; Sam Rosen lettering.   

Heck: "When I was doing "Iron Man," I enjoyed it because in the beginning, there were characters like Happy Hogan and that other girl, Pepper Potts. They were characters. They were people...Stan called up, and he said he wanted Pepper to be prettier, and as far as I was concerned, that killed her. In other words, if she gets prettier, who cares if she's second fiddle or something like that? But if she's homely and she winds up going out, then its a big deal. And the same [call] he said "make Happy handsomer." And I liked him with his banged up ear and his crooked nose and a whole mess of stuff like that...Suddenly, everybody had to be pretty, and I didn't like it."          
While Heck's art was not as inventive or intensely powerful as Jack Kirby's (few artists were) he had an appealing style with a charm all its own. Favorite early Iron Man stories include “The Mad Pharaoh” (Tales of Suspense # 44, August 1963), where his rendering showed a distinct Alex Toth influence; a two-part Mandarin story (Suspense #’s 54 & 55, June-July 1964), the latter which included a special feature:  “All about Iron Man,” where Heck's inking was particularly crisp; and the introduction of the Unicorn (Suspense # 56, August 64), a villain Heck probably designed on his own, and quite expertly. All of Heck's penciled and inked Iron Man stories are great reads and reflect some of his very best work in the super hero field.

In his Comics Feature interview Heck explained: 

 "..I was more or less inspired in some cases by stuff I had seen that Alex Toth was doing, and so I was having fun with it, and I saw Toth was working with a Rapid-O-Graph [a technical pen], and I did an Egyptian story with all of these characters, and it was the first time I used a Rapid-O-Graph."  

"The Mad Pharaoh!" (Tales of Suspense # 44, August 1963) is the story Heck references.  Stan Lee plot; Robert Bernstein script; Sam Rosen lettering. 

Iron Man floats weightlessly above the Manhattan crowd; one of Heck's most accomplished pages of the period. Tales of Suspense # 54, June 1964.

A special feature page from Tales of Suspense # 55, July 1964. Lee script; Heck art; Sam Rosen lettering.  

When Stan Lee gave Heck an additional title to draw in mid-1964 (taking over the reigns from Jack Kirby on The Avengers with # 9, cover-dated October) he relinquished his inking responsibilities for the first time in his career. Dick Ayers, Chic Stone and Mike Esposito filled that role with varying degrees of success. Overall, though, the results diluted Heck's pencils. Heck provided his perspective on producing the finished art in Comics Scene # 21, November 1982 (conducted by Richard Howell):  
"I would much rather finish my own work. Obviously, if I do that, I’m not going to do as many pages per month, as far as that goes, but I like to get into the characters. I like to work with the whole feeling of the story. And I think you--I do, anyway--draw better if you do the whole drawing."   

Upon his return to Marvel, John Romita's first job was inking Heck's pencils on The Avengers. Heck had assisted Romita on a few romance jobs at DC, and both were noted for drawing attractive women. Stan Lee script; Morrie Kuramoto lettering, The Avengers # 23, December 1965. 

While Heck didn't particularly enjoy working on a team book (or superheroes, for that matter), many of the early Avengers stories focused on a core group consisting of Captain America, Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, giving him the ability to play up characterization and human drama. This began to change in his last dozen-odd issues when first original members Goliath and the Wasp returned (in issue # 28) and Hercules was added as a new member (# 38) instituting a more unwieldy congregation of heroes and villains.

Concurrent with his mid-1960s Marvel work Heck freelanced for Western Publishing/Gold Key on an array of popular TV adaptations: The Man from Uncle, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Twilight Zone and Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery. "The Ten Little UNCLE's Affair," Dick Wood script, Mike Esposito inks, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. # 5, March 1966.  

After Heck was relieved of his Avengers duties he became a utility player at Marvel, laying out stories for Werner Roth on X-Men and working over John Romita’s breakdowns on Amazing Spider-Man (often completed by inker Mike Esposito). While serviceable, this piecemeal approach deprived Heck of his many signature qualities. Heck returned to full pencils on Captain Marvel, Captain Savage and anthology stories in Tower of Shadows, Chamber of Darkness, Our Love Story and My Love. Heck's non-superhero efforts were undoubtedly the best of what he produced in this period, before he was prodded to emulate Jack Kirby's Wagnerian visuals.  

In the mid-to-late 1960s Heck was rarely given the opportunity to ink his own pencils and his work suffered accordingly. On occasion he was paired with a compatible inker, such as veteran artist Syd Shores. "The Junk-Heap Juggernauts!," Captain Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders # 13, April 1969.   

Master draftsman John Buscema was both a friend and an admirer of Heck's art. They only collaborated on a handful of stories, but Heck's delineation on this page suggests (at least to me!) that they should have been paired together more often. "A Time to Die!,"; Stan Lee script; Sam Rosen lettering,  Tower of Shadows # 1, September 1969.  

With superheroes showing signs of weakness publisher Martin Goodman decided to revisit several once-popular genres, including romance (Love Romances was cancelled in 1963). My Love and Our Love Story debuted on alternate months and it was only natural for Heck, often praised by fans and professionals for depicting stunning women, to become a primary contributor on both titles. The above splash teams him with his contemporary in the romance field, John Romita. "Why Did I Lose You, My Love?," Stan Lee story; Heck pencils; Romita inks, Sam Rosen letters, Our Love Story # 1, October 1969.    

Marvel also initiated two mystery-oriented comics in the spring/summer of 1969, Tower of Shadows and Chamber of Darkness, where Heck was again on solid ground. The above page underscores the artists instinctive understanding of where the "camera" should be placed. This story also profits from Heck inking his pencils, a rare occurrence in this period. "Evil is A Baaaad Scene!!," Allyn Brodsky script; Sam Rosen lettering, Tower of Shadows # 4, March 1970.  

In the early 1970s Heck switched allegiances and moved to DC, where he was wisely assigned to strips starring female leads, from superhero/adventure series Wonder Woman, "Batgirl" and "Rose and the Thorn," to a plethora of romance stories. The supernatural titles such as House of Secrets and The Witching Hour also benefited from his artistic skills. As good as they were, he hit a high note with the extra-length Gothic thrillers The Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love/Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion and Sinister House of Secret Love

Heck's use of contemporary fashions and beautiful women were combined to design many exceptional covers for DC's romance titles. Girls' Romances # 156, April, 1971. Dick Giordano inks (who often stated he loved inking Don's work).  

When given the opportunity to draw more realistic scenes and settings Heck stretched his muscles. This atmospheric page includes an impressive birds-eye view in panel five. "Kiss of Death," The Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love # 3, February 1972, Heck pencils and inks; Jack Oleck script; Ben Oda lettering.  

Heck was reportedly given the "Batgirl" strip due to Jack Kirby's referral and he came through with flying colors. "The Deadly Go-Between!," Detective Comics # 416, October 1971. Heck pencils and inks. Frank Robbins script; John Costanza lettering. 

Back at Marvel in the mid-1970s Heck penciled a few above-average stories, particularly in Giant-Size Dracula and Giant-Size Defenders. As the decade wore on, though, both Heck's assignments and inkers were wanting and his work fell out of favor. Heck was often the guy editors called on when deadlines loomed; he was always dependable and delivered the goods on time. The finished product did not always meet fans expectations, though, and Heck - not the inkers or editors - would get the blame. 

Author Steve Gerber praised Heck for his storytelling on "Too Cold A Night for Dying!" in Giant-Size Defenders # 4, April 1975. Vince Colletta inks; Dave Hunt lettering.  

Disappointed with the treatment he received at Marvel Heck returned to DC in 1977, remaining with the company until 1988. There he had runs on Wonder Woman, The Flash, Steel, the Indestructible Man and Justice League of America. Some of the DC editors were more accommodating to Heck, either providing sympathetic inkers or granting him the opportunity to do the complete job. The results were generally of high-quality. 

A time-travel tale gave Heck an opportunity to revisit familiar territory as Green Lantern encounters Jonah Hex, one of DC's popular western characters. Justice League of America # 199, February 1982. Brett Breeding provides the sturdy inks.  Gerry Conway script; Ben Oda lettering. 

Like most comic book artists Don Heck was almost certainly an avid moviegoer who studied cinematic techniques. While fans got a kick out of seeing Heck's versions of Jimmy Olsen, Adam Strange, Deadman, Blackhawk and Woozy Winks, Heck was almost certainly more interested in depicting movie stars Spencer Tracy, Edward G. Robertson, Charlie Chaplin, Gary Cooper and Harpo Marx! "All This And World War, Too!" Jean-Marc Lofficier plot, Roy Thomas script; Heck pencils and inks; John Costanza lettering; Carl Gafford coloring. DC Challenge # 9, July 1986.   

In addition to his DC work, Heck's art appeared in other venues from time to time, including the magazine anthology Adventure Illustrated # 1, Winter 1981. Heck provided three illustrations to accompany a chapter from Owen Wister's 1902 western novel "The Virginian." The artist's exuberance for the material is echoed in his delightfully fluid technique.  

Heck returned to Marvel for the final time in 1989 when work dried up at DC. He penciled, inked or provided finished art over other artists in Avengers Spotlight, Marvel Comics Presents, Thor and other features. Heck also worked for a few independent publishers including Topps Comics. 

Heck revisited the armored hero he was most recognized for in Iron Man Annual # 12, September 1991, illustrating this one-page recap of his origin. Heck also inked an IM story in that issue.   


One of Heck's last jobs was drawing a character Jack Kirby designed, Nightglider, for Topps comics. "She Glides in Beauty Like the Night...," Nightglider # 1, April 1993. 

Don Heck has been described by his peers as an amiable, hard working, no-nonsense guy; a visual and verbal mix of Leo Gorcey and Art Carney, equipped with a sharp sense of humor. A self-effacing man, Heck was not afraid to speak his mind when prodded, typical of his working class upbringing in the streets of Jamaica, Queens. Heck passed away on February 23, 1995, at the age of 66.

In a career spanning more than 40 years Don Heck produced a body of work that is worthy of appreciation. Unjustly and often cruelly denounced by the fan press in his later years, Heck was deeply wounded by these assaults, but he bravely weathered the storm and was determined to continue perfecting his skills, as this exchange with Will Murray illustrates:

Murray: So you maintain your edge by drawing, no matter what.

Heck: I draw all the time, yeah. I've got a whole bunch of pages where you're just drawing figures there, [working] with that, trying different things that you're working with. 

In retrospect, Heck was a distinctive artist whose greatest achievements were in the pages of comics devoid of super-heroes. Thankfully, the past few decades have preserved a good portion of his work in attractive hardcover editions such as Marvel Masterworks. Online, one can view and read many of his 1950s-era stories, now in the public domain and easily accessed at Comic Book Plusand fans can discuss, share, study and celebrate Heck's output on Facebook. By peering more deeply into his 40+ year career, scholars of the medium and aficionados can reassess the quality of an artist who, standing in the shadow of Jack Kirby, was all-too-often dismissed. Removed from that shadow a talented cartoonist comes to light.

 Note: This is an updated and greatly expanded version of an article that originally appeared in Alter Ego # 42, November 2004. It has been further revised from my post originally published on January 15, 2017. 

Don Heck; A Work of Art by John Coates is an essential look at the artist's work and was an invaluable resource tool in reworking this article. It can be purchased from TwoMorrows or at Amazon:


To see a fine selection of Heck's Comic Media work (and view full issues of comic books in the public domain) go here:   

To share your thoughts and art on Don Heck join the Don Heck Appreciation Page 

    I'll close with a sketch Don drew for me at the 1975 Marvel Con: 

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Marvel's 1966 Specials

Starting in the spring of 1966 Marvel released its double-sized specials, timed to sell at what was considered a peak period for the comics industry. It was prompted by the belief that as the school year was winding down kids generally had more leisure time and additional spending capital (accrued by performing various entrepreneurial pursuits) during the seemingly endless summer. These expanded publications were originally called Annuals - an appellation most fans still commonly use. Beginning in '66 they were labeled "King-Size Specials."  I have no idea why the change occurred; perhaps publisher Martin Goodman felt children didn't understand what the word Annual meant (personally, I never struggled over the term.) Either way, they were supplements to Marvel's regular monthly titles. So, assuming the impulse was present, youngsters with spare change in their pockets could indulge in the delights offered by Marvel's summer extravaganzas. 

A look at the evolving design and titling of Marvel's Annuals. The format, as seen on the top example, remained the standard from 1961-63. The top banner and corner box were tweaked in the following three years. The middle tier initiated the "King-Size" wording to precede "Annual." The '66 version excised the word entirely in favor of "Special" (Lee and company couldn't even keep it straight - continuing to refer to them as Annuals on the Bullpen page!). In 1965 the corner box, which profiled the starring character(s) was supplanted with the proclamation: "72 Big Pages" or "More Pages! More Thrills!" (as an aside I should note that Lee used the phrase: "The World's Greatest Annual" on the cover of # 2, which I like so much that I'm thinking of re-titling "Marvel Mysteries and Comics Minutia"  to "The World's Greatest Comics Blog!")   

The 1966 line-up differed slightly from the previous year. Marvel-Super Heroes was a new addition taking the place of Marvel TalesThor Special # 2 continued the numbering sequence of 1965's Journey into Mystery Annual # 1 (see a detailed account below.) And one Special apparently was never published as such - but more on that subject later.

An explanatory note for the uninitiated (or, as Groucho Marx stated when he looked into the camera in the 1932 movie Horse Feathers: "I've got to stay here, but there's no reason why you folks shouldn't go out into the lobby until this blows over.") Thor's escalation in popularity grew in just a few short years - as seen by these cover examples. Thor began as the lead feature in Journey into Mystery # 83, August 1962. The title had a long history as a fantasy/monster/anthology comic. With # 97 "Tales of Asgard," debuted, focusing exclusively on the mythological gods in ongoing, five page stories. Short fantasy vignettes continued to appear as back-ups until issue # 104, May 1964. Since Thor was now appearing in both the opening and second feature it was finally decided that Journey into Mystery was an unnecessary title. The March, 1966-dated issue was now simply called Thor, with the numbering continuing from JIM (which probably had some collectors back in those days thinking they had to collect every Thor story dating back to JIM # 1!) Since I'm a completist (or obsessed - take your pick!) I'll note that Journey into Mystery was revived as a title briefly in 1972, returning to its fantasy roots. After writing this paragraph I'm having second thoughts about re-titling this blog: "The World's Greatest Comics Blog!" Perhaps "Journey into Minutiae" is more apropos!  

The release schedule amounted to two specials per month. June debuted Sgt. Fury and Millie the Model. While it might seem odd in retrospect, since Marvel's focus at that time was on super-heroes, other genres remained quite popular with a general audience. When Marvel initiated their Annual line in 1962 Millie was at the forefront (the other title being Strange Tales.) No new material was featured in her 5th excursion, likely due to time constraints. Although Millie had been around since the 1940s the series had recently undergone a transition from humor to dramatic, soap opera-oriented stories; therefore it was determined to reprint the type of features more in line with current sensibilities.  

Millie's Special was similar in appearance to Marvel's other 1966 publications. The only alterations were the top banner ("Queen " replacing "King") and the upper-left hand corner box that read: "More Pages! More Glamor!" Since Millie was not combating any super-villains or engaged in hand-to-hand combat with Nazis, it kinda' made sense! It's worth noting that advertising in Millie's Special catered specifically to girls' interests and differed from the toy soldiers and monster posters being sold between the pages of the testosterone-filled superhero and western heroics. Stan Golberg cover art (and likely coloring); Sam Rosen lettering.   

Millie was still quite popular in 1966, being featured in two titles (Millie the Model and Modeling with Millie) of which material for this special had been culled. Stan Lee story; Stan Goldberg co-plot and art; Sol Brodsky inks; Sam Rosen lettering and coloring likely by Goldberg.  

One aspect of Millie (and Marvel's other girl-oriented comics, including Patsy and Hedy) that appealed to its predominantly female audience - although boys also contributed - was the creative involvement afforded readers. Anyone so inclined could design clothing and dresses for the characters and be acknowledged in print. This was a staple of not just the feature pages, such as the one pictured above, but included throughout every story. On various occasions artist Stan Goldberg proudly recounted that, in later years, a number of fans approached him at conventions, explaining how they were inspired to pursue a career in fashion because of Millie's collaborative efforts.         

Also on sale June 9th in most US cities was Sgt. Fury Special # 2. In the space of a few years the war mag had become one of Marvel's best sellers. Roy Thomas, who had recently taken over the scripting of the monthly title from Stan Lee (beginning with # 27, five months earlier) did the honors here, accompanied by the regular artistic team of Dick Ayers on pencils and John Tartaglione on inks. The 25-page tale focused on an important date in history, June 6th, 1944, when the allied invasion of Normandy, codenamed D-Day, took place. 

The formatting of Specials, offering a new lead story backed up by two earlier tales, continued in the same vein as the previous year. A representation of SF # 11 was followed by the debut tale of "Nick Fury, Agent of Shield," then barely a year old, in the hope of getting fans of the war mag interested in his present-day secret agent capers which were currently appearing in Strange Tales.    

                             Sgt. Fury Special # 2. Dick Ayers cover art; Sam Rosen lettering. 

In the midst of intense bravado, Roy Thomas and Dick Ayers took a few panels to reflect on weightier issues via the thoughts of Fury, Percy and Gabe. John Tartaglione inks; Sam Rosen letters; Stan Goldberg colors? 

Stan Lee used the last page to promote both the monthly Fury title and Strange Tales.   

July saw the arrival of Thor Special # 2 in candy stores. Clocking in at 30 pages, it was the longest new-material work published in 1966. Page lengths in the Specials varied this year, likely based on scheduling and availability of the creative team. Also lacking were the extra features and pin-up pages that permeated the early Annuals (only a few were crafted the previous year.) 

Lee and Kirby presented a story which took place entirely in the realm of Asgard, with Thor fighting alongside Odin and his compatriots (Fandrall, Hogun and Volstagg) against the Destroyer. There was no sign of Thor's frail alter-ego, Dr. Don Blake, nor much need to deal with earthly concerns. At this point Lee and Kirby seemed comfortable creating a fantasy environment that fans reveled in.   

Thor Special # 2. Jack Kirby pencils; Vince Colletta inks; Artie Simek and Morrie Kuramoto lettering; Stan Goldberg colors? All covers featured vignettes previewing the reprinted stories. 

Jack Kirby's full page illustration of the Destroyer suggests the character's power, weight and looming threat to Thor and his companions. Vince Colletta inks.       

Marvel Super-Heroes also debuted in July, a title that effectively replaced Marvel Tales on the schedule. After the first two Annuals MT became an ongoing, bi-monthly series, featuring early tales of Spider-Man, Thor, Human Torch and Ant-Man. This special reprinted Daredevil # 1 (then just two years old) by Lee and Bill Everett; Avengers # 2 by Lee, Kirby and Paul Reinman and a Golden Age (aka 1940s Timely-era) battle between the original Human Torch and Sub-Mariner by Everett and Carl Burgos. Martin Goodman likely ordered the title as a tie-in to the syndicated cartoon debuting in September. While only three of the heroes featured in the Special (Thor, Iron Man and Sub-Mariner) would be starring on the TV show, it was probably important for Goodman to trademark the title and have it serve as a marketing vehicle for the entire line. 

Marvel Super-Heroes Special # 1 had a cover composed of interior art, thus saving expenses on paying for a new cover. Pencils by Bill Everett, Jack Kirby and Carl Burgos; inks by Paul Reinman, Burgos and Everett, with touch-ups likely by Marie Severin. Lettering by the ever-talented Sam Rosen and coloring (possibly) by Stan Goldberg.  

All the Specials (with the exception of Millie) included a Table of Contents on the inside front cover, a prominent area which was generally reserved for paid advertising. The artwork was taken from interior stories, with graytones and touch-ups by Marie Severin. While Lee often mentioned the office staff in the Bullpen Bulletins page, the extra space allowed him to give them further credit, including Sol Brodsky, Flo Steinberg and Denny O'Neil.       

At the conclusion of the first confrontation between the original Human Torch and Sub-Mariner, reprinted from Marvel Mystery Comics # 8, June 1940, an editorial note (signed "Stentorian Stan" but likely written by Associate Editor Roy Thomas) mentions the current incarnations of those characters. Art by Carl Burgos and Bill Everett.   

Also included in MSH was Stan Lee's first text story for Goodman's line, with illustrations by Jack Kirby.  

In August two of Marvel's best selling characters were given the spotlight. Amazing Spider-Man Special # 3 had the wall-crawler attempting to join the Avengers. This appealed to fans who enjoyed crossovers, although the plot was standard-fare and illogical (Peter Parker was a college student, so how could he possibly be available upon a moment's notice to assist the team?) Spidey was tasked to find the Hulk, but deliberately flunked the test when he discovered Bruce Banner's tragic circumstances. It was a fun story, especially for readers who loved the abundance of colorful protagonists, but there was another scenario that almost occurred. 

Amazing Spider-Man Special # 3. John Romita pencils; Mike Esposito inks; Sam Rosen lettering; Stan Goldberg colors?  

Spider-Man greets the Avengers but thankfully (in the 1960s at least) he remained a solo hero. Stan Lee script; John Romita co-plot-breakdowns; Don Heck pencils; Mike Esposito inks; Artie Simek letters and Stan Goldberg colors.   

In Steve Ditko's essay "Why I quit S-M, Marvel" (The Four-Page Series No. 9, September 2015) the artist explained: 

"One day I got a call from Sol [Brodsky, Marvel's Production manager]. The next S-M Annual is coming up. Okay."

"Why should I continue to do all these monthly issues, original story ideas, material, for a man [Stan Lee] who is too scared, too angry over something, to even see, talk to me? "

"At some point I decided to quit Marvel, S-M, DS [Doctor Strange]." 

That call from Brodsky would obviously have been in reference to the third Special. 

Steve Ditko had departed Marvel many months before Amazing Spider-Man Special # 3 was on-sale, but his work was represented via reprints of ASM #'s 11-12.   

A little background for those not familiar with the behind the scenes details. According to Ditko, Stan Lee had stopped communicating with him on storylines sometime around ASM # 25. For his last year at Marvel Ditko was solo plotting both Spider-Man and "Doctor Strange", with Lee supplying the dialogue and editing. For a freelance artist this could be a tenuous situation. 

No one knows what kind of story Ditko would have conceived, but I'd put my money on it being something unique and memorable. Working out the details on his own (Brodsky would have relayed how many pages were allotted) the likelihood of   guest-stars was practically nil. When Ditko began plotting Spider-Man solo, the Human Torch, The Hulk, Daredevil and other Marvel mainstays vanished. Lee enjoyed intermingling and cross-pollinating the line; Ditko believed a hero should be able to solve his own problems and cameos only weakened the vital role of supporting players and ongoing storylines. One can wonder, though, what a third Steve Ditko Spider-Man Special might have been...  

(to read my ruminations on Ditko's extraordinary Annual efforts you don't have to be tech savvy to find them. For the first post click here: https://nick-caputo.blogspot.com/2014/07/50-summers-ago-amazing-spider-man.html and then click on the "feature post" on the right side for the second post)  

Fantastic Four Special showcased the premiere title in Marvel's line. The story featured the return of the Original Human Torch, including a look back at his beginnings. His inclusion was almost certainly a dictate from Martin Goodman, who wanted to secure the copyright. Carl Burgos created the popular hero for Goodman's first publication, Marvel Comics, in 1939. For nearly two decades Burgos plied his trade as an artist for Timely/Atlas and was their unofficial cover editor during the 1950s. He briefly returned to work for Lee in the 1960s, including a story featuring the Lee-Kirby Human Torch in Strange Tales, but in 1966 Burgos reportedly instigated a lawsuit for the rights to his creation.  In defiance Goodman countered by reintroducing Burgos' character in two of Marvel's Specials (the aforementioned Marvel-Super-Heroes and FF, as seen below) following-up four months later by reprinting early stories - and emphasizing the flaming android on covers in Fantasy Masterpieces, starting with issue # 7.    

FF Special # 4. Jack Kirby pencils; Joe Sinnott inks; Sam Rosen letters; Stan Goldberg

The two Torches meet. Little did fandom know the real fireworks behind the scenes. Stan Lee dialogue; Jack Kirby co-plot-art; Joe Sinnott inks; Sam Rosen lettering; Stan Goldberg colors. 

One of the special treats for many fans was the reprinting of Fantastic Four #'s 25-26, which detailed the team's battle with the Hulk. There was much drama, action and excitement to be had, as the FF fought valiantly against an unstoppable foe, with the Avengers coming aboard in the concluding chapter. Although the story was only a few years old, it spoke of an earlier era, and a time when back issues were hard to acquire. This gave the stories an almost mythical status, and neighborhood friends who had the original issues would be looked on in awe - those comics coveted as much as a rare coin or baseball card.       

Marvel's mighty misanthropes slug it out! For many kids of the era, the Thing-Hulk battle was more thrilling than the opening story. Stan Lee plot-dialogue; Jack Kirby co-plot-art; George Roussos inks; Sam Rosen lettering and Stan Goldberg coloring. Note the bottom promo for the Marvel Super-Heroes cartoon. 

While those were all the Specials published by Marvel in 1966, its not quite the end of the story.  A mystery takes shape in the form of a title that looks like every other Special...except that it's not. 

Kid Colt Outlaw, a long-running, popular western title, appears to have been slated for "King-Size Special" status. The September-dated issue, # 130 (on stands in June) is priced at 25 cents instead of the usual 12 cents, and the cover format is the same composition as the Spider-Man, Thor, and Sgt. Fury Specials. Which begs the question: was it intended to be a Special? And if so, why did it not appear as such?  The answer is open to speculation but may be quite elementary (to quote Sherlock Holmes.)

Kid Colt Outlaw # 130. Note the corner box identified as "Kid Colt Special," and the vignettes depicting scenes from the interior tales; in exactly the same style as the other 25 cent titles. Jack Keller art; Sam Rosen lettering; Stan Goldberg coloring ?

Martin Goodman had an agreement with his distributor, Independent News, which limited him to a set number of titles. In this period it alternated on a bi-monthly basis. For example, Marvel had 14 comics on stands in March, 1966 and 16 in April of '66. During the summer months, however, Goodman was allowed approximately 2-3 extra issues in order to take advantage of peak sales.  It is possible that Independent limited the number of 25 cent specials as well. In the two previous years, six Annuals were on the schedule; the same number as in 1966. I suspect that Goodman attempted to add a seventh and was denied; if so, the material prepared for the Special was easily shoehorned into the monthly title by making it a 25 center, but there is yet another puzzle.

Kid Colt Outlaw # 130 featured all-reprint material, including a look at how he came to be labeled an outlaw. Originally from KCO # 79, July 1958. Stan Lee story; Jack Keller pencils; Christopher Rule inks; Joe Letterese letters and Stan Goldberg colors.   

The following two issues of Kid Colt (# 131-132, November 1966; January 1967) were also double-length, 25 centers. Then, without fanfare, the title reverted back to standard format, with no mention of the change. It's possible that Independent News balked at Goodman producing another 25 cent comic, perhaps limiting him to three bi-monthlies (Fantasy Masterpieces, Marvel Tales and Marvel Collector's Item Classics). They might not have wanted more competition with DC's oversized titles. A minor mystery, admittedly, but one lost to the mists of time.      

This journey back to a period when comics and summer exploded in an almost magical kaleidoscope of exuberance is no doubt tinged with melancholy, particularly for those who lived through it, and were young. Nevertheless I believe many of these comics are worthy of continued discussion and analysis - which is a testament to the creators who envisioned them all those years ago.       

 To read all of Steve Ditko's Essays in the Four Page Series, including the complete text of "Why I Quit S-M, Marvel" go here: https://www.amazon.com/Complete-Four-Page-Other-Essays-Complains/dp/1945307269/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Steve+Ditko+four+page+series&qid=1623282010&sr=8-1