Wednesday, July 9, 2014

50 Summers Ago: Amazing Spider-Man Annual 1

In June of 1964 the first Amazing Spider-Man Annual arrived on newsstands. For fans of the character it was a real treat, featuring an extra-long 41 page story by Lee and Ditko, followed by 31 pages of special features.

       The Circus comes to town!  Amazing Spider-Man Annual # 1, June, 1964. Steve Ditko cover art, Artie Simek letters, Stan Goldberg colors. The same team is featured inside, with Stan Lee as co-plotter and Sam Rosen lettering.

With it's multi-colored logo and simple but effective design the first Spider-Man Annual offered a world of excitement. At 25 cents the comic was a real bargain, featuring a total of 72 pages of interior story/art and only three pages of advertising (inside front cover, inside back cover and back cover). I noticed this while checking info for the upcoming Taschen book (check out the link below. The Yancy Street Gang: "Meticulous" Michael J. Vassallo, "Bashful" Barry Pearl and yours truly, have been involved in fact-checking, consulting, researching and writing captions for the Timely/Atlas/Marvel Age, up to the 1970's. End of promotion!)

The ad pages grew in the following year, but it's nice to read a story with no interruptions!  

Steve Ditko did not like the idea of using guest-stars in Spider-Man or Dr. Strange - or any other hero books - feeling that they undercut the story world and the individuality of the main hero, who should be able to deal with problems on his own. Stan Lee thought otherwise, and used his titles to promote the entire superhero line. Guest-stars and villains from other strips appeared during the time that Lee and Ditko were plotting Spider-Man together, but once Ditko began plotting on his own (circa Amazing Spider-Man # 25) no other super-heroes or "borrowed" villains appeared. Ditko explained in his essay "A Mini-History 1: The Green Goblin"* "Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2 (1965) featuring Dr. Strange, was,  as an Annual should be, a special event. It does not necessarily have to connect to the monthly adventures."  

While Ditko's discussion was about Spidey's second Annual, it's likely that he was more agreeable to add guest-stars to a special event, and went along with Stan Lee's idea to promote the line by including Marvel's line of heroes throughout the book. What's interesting is how he accomplished it.

The first guest-star Spidey "meets" is Thor in a humorous two-panel sequence as he zooms past Spidey. Lee provides the humorous dialogue "He's either on his way to a meeting with the Avengers..or he's late for his BARBER!" In every guest appearance Lee adds a caption to promote the characters own comic. 


Ditko's other signature character, Dr. Strange, has a cameo, strolling nonchalantly through the streets of Forest Hills while Peter is tussling with Flash Thompson! Dr. Strange is depicted in his "spirit form" (differentiated by a lack of color) but if so he likely wouldn't be seen by the teenagers; besides, they make no reference to his ghostly appearance. It's possible Ditko's thinking was at odds with Stan Lee's, who may have altered Ditko's intent when writing the dialogue. Perhaps Ditko had Dr. Strange casting a spell to protect himself from the teenagers hooliganism (see his gesture in the first panel) which allowed the boys to harmlessly pass through him. If you look at the scene and picture Doc colored normally it would make a little more sense. 


    As the FF fly around in their Fantasti-Car they think Spidey is goofing around. Instead, traumatized over seeing Aunt May crying over a picture of her deceased husband, his Uncle Ben, Peter's feelings of guilt well-up and he  suffers what appears to be the loss of his powers.

Lost in thought and worried about how his life will change as a normal teenager, Peter is oblivious to Giant-Man and the Wasp stopping a crime.

The Vulture delivers a message to Jameson that Betty Brant (and Aunt May, who was with her) are hostages of "The Sinister Six", a group of Spider-Man's old foes seeking revenge. The Vulture wants Jameson to contact Spider-Man, setting him up in a trap. Jameson, of course, has no clue how to contact Spider-Man and calls the Fantastic Four, who in turn contact the Avengers. Captain America, who answers the call, tells Reed Richards, "I never even MET Spider-Man!". Those were the days!   

The Human Torch sends out a flaming message in the skies to no avail. Professor X has no time to worry about Spider-Man, telling his students to ignore it and get back to work! If only more superheroes minded their own business today instead of getting involved in every story-line! 

Although Peter believes he has lost his powers he desperately attempts to save his loved ones. Arriving at the assigned destination as Spider-Man he encounters Electro and his extraordinary reflexes save his life. Spider-Man then realizes that his loss of powers was only psychosomatic, surely the first time a superhero had suffered such an illness! 

Spidey finally meets another hero in one panel. Since he was fighting Electro in Stark's power plant Iron-Man, shows up, but only AFTER Spidey's confrontation!  Since Lee was promoting the characters perhaps he deliberately left off the official titles in his captions; by this point Journey into Mystery and Tales of Suspense's cover logos were negligible. The superheroes were clearly the main selling point and "The Power of Iron-Man" and "The Mighty Thor" were emphasized. Soon Tales to Astonish would follow suit, although Strange Tales logo remained intact for some time. 

               JJJ contacts the FF again, worried about his own neck, of course!  

The Human Torch appeared in a number of Spider-Man's monthly adventures,but the two teenagers were often antagonistic towards each other. Spider-Man declines Johnny's offer of assistance, clearly Ditko's idea that a hero had to fight his own battles and doesn't need outside help. Ditko explained in "A Mini-History 12: Guest Stars: Heroes and Villains"**  "I also deliberately made S-M and the HT ineffective as a "team" in capturing the B (Beetle)...In yet another S-M/HT team up (#19) I had two policeman capture the Sandman." Ditko cleverly accepted Lee's guest-stars on occasion, but had them get in each others way instead of helping each other. Kind of like two many cooks in the kitchen.  

And here Spidey battles the X-Men. Or does he? They turn out to be robots created by Mysterio. Lee gets to promote the new team (whose seventh issue was on the stands when the Annual appeared) and Ditko avoids a meeting with the real heroes.

In one of the most amusing panels Jameson desperately tries to contact Spider-Man, by conversing with a spider outside his window. I bet he was a fan of Mr. Ed!  

And the final cameo goes to the Human Torch, who checks in with a aggravated JJJ. All told Ditko included 27 panels of guest stars in a 41 page story, and most characters were "walk on" appearances, so Ditko followed Lee's directive while limiting their usage. 

"The Secrets of Spider-Man" feature included cameos of Thor, the Hulk, the Thing and the FF, explaining how strong Spider-Man was in proportion to other heroes, as well as discussing the strength of Spidey's webbing.

A "Guest-Star Page" includes Ditko's versions of the Hulk and the FF, drawn in "the somewhat different Ditko style". While Ditko never quite got the hang of drawing the Thing, he did a fine job on the other members of the FF, particularly the Torch. The following month he would go on to revive the Hulk, plotting and drawing the new co-feature in Tales to Astonish for eight issues.

Finally, we close with this delightful image of Stan Lee being assaulted by Marvel's heroes, including Daredevil and Sgt. Fury, the only characters who didn't make it into the main story. Fury, of course, was set in World War II, and DD may have been omitted because Lee and Ditko worked on the opening story before DD was created (the special features section may have been produced after the lead story), although as Joseph William Marek pointed out, it may simply be that DD was guest-starring in that months Amazing Spider-Man #16.     

While I don't totally agree with Ditko's theory that guest-stars diminish a heroes importance, his point that using them interfered with developing the leading hero and his supporting characters is valid. There was a distinct thrill when heroes met each other, especially for kids, and it was especially entertaining in the early 1960's when it was a novelty and used sparingly. As the years went on an "anything goes" mentality produced many poorly plotted story-lines, lacking in characterization or new ideas. Guest-stars are all too often used as an excuse to mix a sea of characters together until they become indistinguishable. Where is the originality in that? 

*(The Comics, Vol 12, No. 7, July 2001)    

**(The Comics, Vol 14, No. 7, July 2003)

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: 

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

Seven years later, either Editor Stan Lee or Publisher Martin Goodman decided to revive the name once again, using the same logo design, and returning the title to its superhero roots. Just three years earlier Fantastic Four # 1 proved a success, and costumed characters began taking over the monster-anthology titles. By 1964 the new heroes were an essential part of Marvel's line, with only their western and teen-romance strips remaining. Marvel Tales was an easy way to introduce many of their top features to a growing audience. Jack Kirby pencils; Sol Brodsky inks, Sam Rosen letters and Stan Goldberg colors. Spider-Man figure 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?

How many kids who opened this comic related to Peter Parker, standing alone as his peers mocked him? Steve Ditko's image speaks volumes, and an unusual adventure series begins. Stan Lee co-plot and dialogue; Artie Simek letters, Stan Goldberg colors.

    Although Peter Parker gains special powers he is overwhelmed by tragedy and guilt. Each story ends with a new editorial note, likely penned by Stan Lee. At the time of this issues publication Lee and Ditko had produced 16 issues of Amazing Spider-Man, with the first Annual appearing on the stands. Spider-Man was clearly a successful product and made a strong impression on its audience. 

 Lee and Kirby introduce the Hulk, giving his best Boris Karloff/FRankenstein Monster impression. Although Lee could have chosen to re-color the Hulk in his recognizable green hue, he instead added a new blurb explaining that he was originally colored gray. Paul Reinman inks, Ray Holloway letters? , Stan Goldberg colors. 

Kirby's cinematic eye is evident in this three panel shot, as The Hulk fades into the night with Rick Jones in pursuit. While its true that the origins are "uncut" as the cover copy states, the stories themselves are truncated. The bottom blurb has Lee promoting the Hulk's revival as a new feature in Tales to Astonish, which debuted the following month.

The Astonishing Ant-Man heads off to a -  excuse the pun - short run. Likely due to space considerations, and the fact that the story was recapped here anyway, Lee chose to skip Henry Pym's pre-hero introduction. Stan Lee plot; Larry Lieber script, Jack Kirby pencils; Dick Ayers inks, Ray Holloway letters ?, 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 appeared. 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 superheroes, 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 reprinted. It would take seventeen years before Marvel finally published a complete reprint of the first issue, closing the circle by appearing in the last issue of Sgt. Fury, which, after years of reprints ended its long run with # 167, Dec 1981. Lee and Kirby story/art, Dick Ayers inks, Artie Simek lettering, Stan G. colors.       

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 was receiving. With credits that included artists, inkers and letterers on every story, Lee often chatted up staffers Stan Goldberg, Flo Steinberg, Sol Brodsky and even publisher Martin Goodman in the letters section. Here Lee presented photos of most of Marvel's then current "bullpen", although the majority worked at home as freelancers. I wonder if Stan made a Freudian slip or deliberately wrote "First, Let's polish off the Big Brass.."  

Once again, Stan decided to retain the original coloring of Iron-Man's armor. Don Heck introduces Iron-Man to the world, 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 the Mighty by Jack Kirby, with delightful 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 debuted in Journey into Mystery # 83!

Stan kept the Thor spelling error in the last panel and pointed it out. What many don't know is that a page of original art exists where the copy in the last panel is completely different. 

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

Marvel Tales Annual # 1 ended 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, namely 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 that issue was a Hulk story from his first series and a delightful Lee-Ditko fantasy thriller from Amazing Adult Fantasy. 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 for many years. While these stories were only a few years old. many fans missed them the first time around, and could only hope to purchase the originals in a used book store or second hand shop. Marvel Tales Annual # 1 encapsulates the charm, wonder and excitement that was - and remains - idiomatic of the creative juices that flowed in the early 1960's.         

51 Summers Ago: Fantastic Four Annual #1

At this time of year my thoughts often drift back to a long ago early summer day and a classroom in Brooklyn, New York. As I sat in class I stared longingly at the outside world through an expansive open window - a perfect day in my mind’s eye. The semester was dwindling down, final exams were ending, and July and August awaited, when the days were seemingly endless. It meant exploring parks, back yards and city streets with friends; baseball, Mr. Softee, stoop ball, collecting gum cards, flying wooden air plans and sometimes just staring at the clouds above. Trips to local candy stores offered many surprises, and June, July and August meant an array of 25 cent Annuals featuring Marvel’s top titles: Sgt. Fury, Avengers, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Thor. The Bullpen Bulletins page and checklist told us what Annuals to expect each month during the summer, but we didn't know what week they would arrive, so anticipation was high with each trip to the candy store.

Although I was only three years old when Fantastic Four Annual # 1 was published, and don’t recall reading the issue until many years later, I thought it would be interesting to point out a few items from the second published Marvel Super-Hero Annual (Strange Tales Annual # 2, which featured the Human Torch and Spider-Man, preceded it by a month) circa early July of 1963. 

  The corner symbol, which was introduced on most Marvel comics six months earlier (the idea originated from Steve Ditko), was also used on the premiere Fantastic Four Annual, featuring the same recognizable images of the FF that adorned the monthly comic book. Jack Kirby pencils; Jack Kirby inks ? 

Who else to feature in the first FF Annual than their primary antagonist, the Sub-Mariner? Stan Lee and Jack Kirby went all out to present a very special 37 page extravaganza, as Namor wages war against the surface world. Lady Dorma returns from the golden age (originally Namor's cousin; Lee took her name and reinvented the character as his love interest, although Namor was still attracted to Sue), Warlord Krang, a rival for both his love and throne is introduced and Namor's origin is retold and expanded, with his unnamed homeland now established as Atlantis. Along with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers added weight with his inking, Artie Simek lettered with style and colors are almost certainly the work of Stan Goldberg.   

Looking closely at page 37, panel 4, the top portion of Sub-Mariner was clearly redrawn, likely by Sol Brodsky. The original drawing must have had Namor knocking a few citizens around a little too forcefully, and the sloppy movement lines as well as the figures of some of the bystanders, including the woman in the background was touched up. The lettering of "threatening" looks like it was altered, meaning another word may have been replaced. 

FF Annual # 1 included many special features, such as an 11 page "Gallery of the Fantastic Four's Most Famous Foes!" Every original foe up to FF # 15 appeared, with sensational Kirby artwork and background info and copy by Stan Lee. Sol Brodsky likely inked most of the pin-ups, with the exception of "The Mad Thinker", inked by Dick Ayers. Ray Holloway provided the lettering for this one. 

The FF's most popular foe, Doctor Doom by Jack Kirby; Sol Brodsky inks ?; Ray Holloway letters.  

Did I say that Sol Brodsky inked most of the pin-ups? Looking at them again I'm not entirely sure that Kirby didn't ink a few himself. Brodsky had a slick line that was close to Kirby's own style but was individual enough to stand out most of the time. This image of the Puppet Master has what I've termed a "sparse" look that is indicative of Kirby's inking* It's possible "Kurrgo" and "The Hulk" may also be inked by Kirby, but I'm not certain.  

Other special features contained in Annual 1 include a two page "Questions and Answers about the Fantastic Four" which strives to reveal facts about the powers and personal lives of the FF, and a schematic of the Baxter Building. 

"The Fabulous Fantastic Four Meet Spider-Man!" is an expanded retelling of the FF's first encounter with Spider-Man from his first issue. Inking Jack Kirby's pencils, Steve Ditko kept Spider-Man's look consistent, fixing errors in costuming that often occurred when Kirby drew Spidey. Ditko probably added the spider on S-M's chest, fixed the web-lines on his costume and included the underarm webbing. Stan Lee script, Ray Holloway letters. 

The Annual closed out with an abbreviated reprint of the first 12 pages of Fantastic Four # 1, which was then only two years old. A number of alterations were made to keep the look of the characters consistent with their present style. The Thing and Reed were touched up slightly, but the biggest change was in the depiction of the Torch. 

The Human Torch was originally drawn as a featureless blob of flame as seen in  Fantastic Four # 1, November 1961, from the reprint in Marvel Masterworks Vol 2, 1987. Stan Lee script, Jack Kirby pencils, George Klein inks, Artie Simek letters. 

When the story was reprinted in FF Annual 1, Stan Lee decided to have the Torch redrawn, keeping the look that was familiar to readers since issue # 3.  The alterations appear to have been administered by Sol Brodsky.   

This was the first of many exciting annuals. In future years special events in the FF alone included the origin of Dr. Doom, the wedding of Reed and Sue, the re-introduction of the Original Human Torch; the announcement of Sue's pregnancy (although, like early television, the word was deemed unsuitable, it was simply stated that Sue "is going to have a baby" ) and the birth of Sue and Reed's child the following year. While page lengths and special features changed from year to year depending on time constraints (new stories became much shorter, with reprints filling out the 1965-1966 specials) from 1963-1968 Marvel's Summer Annuals (or King-Size Specials) featured the work of some of their greatest creators, including  Lee, Kirby, Steve Ditko, Roy Thomas, Don Heck, Gary Friedrich, Dick Ayers, John Buscema, Gene Colan, Larry Lieber, Al Hartley, Stan Goldberg and Marie Severin. 

By 1969 the Annuals/Specials turned almost all reprint and even disappeared from the schedule for a few years. When they returned in the mid-1970's many of the stories lacked the imagination, excitement or superior talent of earlier days. I'll always be grateful, though, for those magical moments when I could walk into a candy store and discover Amazing Spider-Man Annual # 5 or FF Annual # 6 on sale, when those precious days of summer had not yet come to a close.            

* for a detailed analysis see my earlier post, "Kirby inking Kirby"