Friday, June 3, 2011

The Marvel University 101

This is going to be a lot of fun!

Peter Enfantino: The idea came to me while reading Pierre Comtois' fascinating Marvel Comics in the 1960s, which takes a look at most of the highlights of Marvel's first decade. I thought it would be a grand experiment to apply the format of our blogs We Are Controlling Transmission and A Thriller a Day to comic books. Two guys reading every single Marvel comic published in the formative years of 1961-1969. The intriguing thing to me would be that John and I would both be coming at these comics as novices.

John Scoleri: Every now and then Peter has a crazy idea that makes sense, and the opportunity to revisit (or be introduced) to the dawn of the Marvel Universe in chronological order did sound appealing.

PE: The two of us were born nine years apart so we were Marvel Zombies in different Ages. My "golden age" was 1971-1976. The first exposure I had to comics was in 1972 when the brother of a friend was heading off to college and asked me if I wanted a box of his old comics, This was a very big box. It had a few DCs hidden in its corners (I distinctly remember an issue of From Beyond the Unknown with a giant scaling a tree in the middle of a city) but it was filled to the brim with Marvels. The first Marvel comic I ever read was Thor #171 ("The Wrath of the Wrecker!"). Thereafter, I bought virtually every comic the company flooded the stands with. And read each and every one of them with pulse-pounding excitement! These were the days when something innovative seemed to be going on in every title. The Gwen Stacy/Green Goblin/Professor Warren arc in The Amazing Spider-Man. Reed Richards having to "shut down" his own son when Franklin exhibits the traits of a nuclear bomb in Fantastic Four. The "other" Captain America. The revelation of who The Vision actually was in The Avengers. The list goes on and on.

JS: I was aware of Marvel characters through reruns of the 60s cartoons, as well as the 70s live-action TV shows (yep, that would be Nicholas Hammond as Spider-Man and the great Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno as David (Bruce) Banner/The Hulk). My first exposure to comics probably came through the classic Power Records book and record sets (it wasn't until the internet age that I was able to determine that "Invasion of the Dragon Men" didn't originate as a Spider-Man comic). My earliest comic memories are of reading along with the records to Frankenstein, Man-Thing, and the Planet of the Apes series over and over and over again. The first comics that I recall not only reading but cllecting were the Star Wars adaptations and first follow-on story arc (you may recall the Magnificent Seven riff with the big green rabbit) that were widely available everywhere in Whitman 3-packs. And then, right around 1980, my best friend got a box of comics from a relative who had a convenience store in Los Angeles. With that came my introduction to the X-Men, Wolverine, John Byrne and Terry Austin. Marvel was my comics bread and butter for years. In addition to the mutant clan, I kept up with Star Wars, the Micronauts, ROM Spaceknight and Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu. So my formative years were almost exclusively spent in the Marvel Universe.

PE: So what would happen if two guys approached these seminal comics from a different angle? Well, to achieve this goal, only one thing stood in our way: the comics themselves. I had amassed a collection of Marvel Comics that was near-complete from 1961 through 1986 but sold the majority of that set back in the 90s. So, unless our budget was in the thousands of dollars, we faced a problem. Fortunately, Marvel has been collecting quite a bit of their history between soft covers in the past several years. Thanks to the "Essentials" line (and eBay), John and I have been able to patch together a very good semblance of the Golden Age of Marvel.

JS: And while I've been perfectly happy to read a lot of the titles in black and white, I found myself more interested in picking up certain collections in color. Fortunately, there are a lot of Visionaries hardcovers and Masterworks volumes to be had inexpensively on the secondary market. We'll see what I feel compelled to hang on to when this grand adventure is over. I see myself as the student here, with Peter as the professor. I've read a handful of the titles we'll be covering, but a good number I will be revisiting for the first time in years, and the majority for the first time ever. I'm actually anxious to dig into several titles/characters that I completely ignored growing up (Thor, Captain Marvel, The Avengers, Dr. Strange...)

PE: The two of us became four (perhaps not the Fantastic - JS) as Jack Seabrook and Tom McMillion, two frequent collaborators on our previous blogs, volunteered to join the crew. They'll tackle some of the titles and John and I will chime in and vice versa.

Jack Seabrook: The first comic I recall reading was The Brave and the Bold #78 (July 1968) when I was five years old. I can picture being in my grandmother's yard in Corsicana, Texas, with that comic book, though I'm sure I was reading them at least a year earlier. My father, who died 12 years ago, was the one who introduced me to comics and brought them home regularly for me to read. By the early seventies, I was a comic book nut. I began attending Phil Seuling's NY conventions in 1973 and I was at the first Marvel Con. I have a vivid memory of riding in an elevator with Vaughn Bode (I was around 10 years old) and being somewhat surprised to see a man in brightly-colored, skintight pants who was carrying a purse.

I was always a DC defender, probably because everyone seemed to dump on DC and praise Marvel. But I read tons of Marvels in the 1970s. My biggest exposure to the 1960s Marvels came when I was given a large collection by my father's friend, Mr. Yee. He had lots of doubles and just gave them to me for free because we both loved comics. He was later the subject of a children's book called Wingman, by Manus Pinkwater, which told the true story of how he used to climb the George Washington Bridge in New York as a boy in the 1940s to get away and read his comics on his own.
Anyway, puberty and high prices ended my days of comic collecting by the late 1970s, and in the 1980s I sold over 4000 of them at a series of shows around New Jersey. I kept the Eisner Spirits and Joe Staton's E-Mans, but everything else was sold off.
And yet—I still go to comic shops and paw through the books, wishing I could bring myself to spend $50 for the All-Star collections and shaking my head at the $4 price tags for the new issues. Rereading the Marvel classics in order will be a trip down memory lane!

Tom McMillion: My first introduction to the Marvel Comics world was when I was 6 years old. My father, whom liked reading them as a kid, figured his son would also enjoy them and he would pick me up an occasional issue whenever he would make a trip to the local 7-11 for milk or eggs. I still remember the first comic I ever owned, The Thing issue #3, September 1983. Something about seeing this big, orange, rock-like monster getting into battles, throwing tanks with one hand, and generally 'cleaning house,' filled my easily polluted, childhood mind with amazement. As I explored this new world of excitement, I quickly became hooked on the adventures of The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Spider-Man, Thor, and just about all the others. Okay, It took me a few years of growing up before I could fully appreciate the X-Men. One could only imagine my happiness when my father took me to my first comic book store, located several suburbs away from our home. Before then, I thought the only place to get any comics was at the convenience store. Now, here I was in a place that treated comics with the respect that they deserved! Gone were the arcane metal spinning racks that played with the lifespan of these books. Instead, long gray boxes acted like treasure troves, with each individual issue contained in plastic with cardboard!

Like all good ol' American boys, I was an action junkie. The part I loved the most about the Marvel Comics was the violence. With the twenty dollars my father would generously toss my way, I'd spend about an hour rummaging, having to judge by the covers which issues were deemed worthy of my cash. Nine times out of ten, I was not disappointed. The Hulk vs. The Juggernaut, Spider-man clashing with the Hobgoblin, Thor battling the Wrecker, Sub-Mariner breaking his alliance with Dr. Doom, and The Thing against just about everybody. This was the stuff that I spent reading and re-reading during those lazy summer days off from school. D.C. comics, at the time were boring to me. It wasn't until I got older that I became a fan of that particular company. Funny, the few comic issues that I buy nowadays are usually from D.C. But, for my money, Marvel still has the best titanic battles on a grand scale when they are on their game.

PE: So that's it for introductions. As we get started next week, expect that there will be a few hiccups along the way. Marvel published 1328 comic issues during this time span. That idea of mine to cover every single Marvel needed to be morphed into something workable with our limited budget. but you'll get coverage of about 90% of the titles. So, while you'll get to read which outlaw Kid Colt was having a showdown with and how Sgt Fury assembled his Howlers in December 1963, you'll be in the dark as to exactly what modeling jobs Millie showed up to or exactly who Patsy and Hedy were.

JS: That's what you say now. We'll see how long that lasts.

PE: So here's what you're going to get starting next Monday: two to three times a week (M-W-F), you'll get a post dedicated to the Marvel Comics published during a single month. Example: our first post will obviously be covering Fantastic Four #1 from November 1961, with mentions of the other non-hero comics published during that month. When things get crowded (and they will quickly) we'll probably cover that month over two posts. Conversely, there will be months (believe it or not) when nothing seems to happen outside of Ben Grimm dating Alicia or Peter Parker failing his algebra exam. Those issues won't elicit as much commentary from us.

PE: As with our two previous blogs, a lot of the fun will be determined on how vocal our audience is. Agree or disagree, please leave us some feedback to let us know how we're doing. We want to hear your Marvel stories as well. Stick around. If this thing works, we'll glide effortlessly into the Seventies!

The following sources have been helpful/essential to us in our research:

The Marvel Database: This site is the go-to source for information on just what appeared and when it appeared.

Cover Browser: If it's a comic book, chances are they'll have the cover pictured here. A treasure chest of goodies.

The Marvel Comics Horror Archive: a listing of reprints of sf and horror comics.

The Merry Marvel Marching Order: a chronological listing of most of the Marvel Comics. There are some gaps here but the synopsis are entertaining reads.

And the following are just a heck of a lot of fun to read:

Monster Blog

Comic Vine


  1. Somehow I managed to survive A Thriller A Day and We Are Controlling the Transmission, so I'm looking forward to Peter and John's latest project. Bring it on gentlemen!

  2. How do you guys come across so many cool things for your blogs? What a great idea! I always thought comics were a great way for kids to bridge the reading gap from picture books to novels; and hey, they had lots of fun and a few life lessons (stuck in there) too.

  3. Been reading Marvel in order for the last two years; don't have EVERYTHING, but I have quite a chunk and I'm only on 1975 - just discovered your blog and am very excited to see what you think of particular issues, given that I'm finding more joy in lesser-known issues and being surprised that some of the iconic stuff isn't always as amazing as its been purported to be. Love this stuff.

    1. Welcome aboard, Ritchard!

      I'm speaking to you from December 1972 (Part One) through the magic of Marvel Space/Time Continuum. I know just how you feel about the surprises found in the lesser titles and the disappointments found in the highly regarded. As a matter of fact, we're about to hit probably the biggest milestone in Marvel history and there may be some dissenting views. And maybe not. Stay tuned!