Wednesday, August 31, 2011

November 1963: Ant-Man Becomes Giant Man!

Tales to Astonish #49

Our Story

A vicious alien being nicknamed The Eraser (because he can erase people) is kidnapping atomic scientists and teleporting them to Dimension Z. Dr. Henry Pym, not only a really good looking professor but also one of the three top atomic scientists in the world, is monkeying around with his growth serum and has just about perfected the antithesis of his shrinking pill. Despite the danger of breaking up his “The Two Smallest Heroes on the Planet” act with The Wasp, Pym has decided he’ll get more respect if villains can actually see him. The first experiment is not what you’d call a success and his house is destroyed. Not to worry though, as this is the Marvel Universe. Just as he’s nearing the perfect dosage, he’s escorted to Dimension Z to discover that the bosses there are hungry for atomic power and have kidnapped the other two brilliant scientists. Yo-yo-ing between Gigantism and Teensyism, Hank Pym (with an assist from The Wasp) crushes the dastardly scheme and zips back to Dimension A (?) with geniuses intact. 
PE: It’s in the pages of Tales to Astonish #49 that we finally learn that there are 26 dimensions and Henry Pym has just been transported to the last one on the list (unless there are also numbered dimensions as well): Dimension Z!

JS: Funny. I feel like I've been in Dimension ZZZZZZ! 
PE: What’s more amazing than a scientist who can grow large or small with a single pill? The same scientist can also rebuild his house in just a couple of comic panels! Pym’s house is destroyed when he becomes “Gianter-Man” on the first page of the story but, miraculously, he’s back to conducting tests in that same house by the second page.

JS: I think the contractor used unstable molecules...

PE: I’m staying tuned just to see if Janet can keep from blundering and calling Hank “Giant-Man” when he’s actually “Ant-Man” and vice versa. We’ve been told (endlessly) that, despite his “shrinkage,” Ant-Man retains all the power of his normal sized body when he’s The World’s Smallest Hero. Evidently, that adage does not hold true when Pym becomes Giant-Man, as he seems to have Giant-Man strength. My head hurts just keeping up with all this science.
PE: You’ve all been breathlessly awaiting this issue, thinking that the quality of the stories would grow proportionately with Hank Pym’s new alter ego. Ummm…

JS: And if gi(ANT) man isn't enough to excite you, we've got the menace of The Eraser! It sure feels like they've had to come up with 100+ horrible characters to end up with a handful that deserve to stick around.
PE: Incredibly enough, Bill Mantlo would resurrect the fourth-tier Eraser 13 years later in Marvel Two-In-One #15, where the newly-christened Living Eraser would battle The Thing and Morbius, the Living Vampire. Just goes to show you that even the lousy villains get a second chance.

Strange Tales #114

The Human Torch

Our Story

"The Human Torch Meets Captain America"
The Torch is busy practicing in the yard with Invisible Girl when his pals show up to tell him that Captain America is back and plans to make an appearance at the antique auto show in town today! At the show, crooks steal an antique car. Johnny goes after them, but Captain America appears on the scene, unhappy that the Torch has interfered. As usual, the citizens of Glenville laud the new hero and ignore Johnny Storm. Even Doris Evans, Johnny's girlfriend, thinks the red, white and blue hero is dreamy. After Captain America helps the car thieves escape from prison, the Torch chases them, and they reveal that Cap planned the robbery. Cap and the Torch fight, but eventually Johnny gets the upper hand and unmasks Cap, revealing him to be The Acrobat (see Strange Tales 106). Johnny wistfully reads an old Captain America comic book and wonders what ever happened to his boyhood hero.
Jack: An editor's note says that this story was a test to see if readers want Captain America to return.

JS: It was clearly done to sell books. I wonder how many readers were disappointed like me when they realized they had been hoodwinked. I should have known better, considering it was, in fact, a Human Torch tale.

PE: Well, actually, you should have known better because you know Marvel history and what's about to happen in a couple months. 

Jack: On the cover, it refers to the Golden Age of Comics and the Marvel Age--when were those terms first used? 

Jack: Captain America is obviously an impostor from early in the story.

JS: You're in luck, Peter's an authority on imposter Captain America's.

Jack: Dick Ayers takes a month off and lets Kirby draw Cap again.

Dr. Strange

Our Story

"The Return of the Omnipotent Baron Mordo"
Dr. Strange returns for his third story after a two-issue hiatus, in response to readers' "enthusiastic mail." Sir Clive Bentley calls Dr Strange from London, requesting help. The master of the mystic arts responds, only to be trapped by Baron Mordo's candle, which gives off a paralyzing vapor. Strange uses his mental powers to summon a nearby girl to Bentley's castle; she arrives and snuffs out the candle before its flame dies and ends the magician's life.

Strange and Mordo's spirit selves battle until Mordo disappears. The story ends as Strange consults with The Ancient One in Tibet and anticipates Mordo's next attack.

JS: One of the things I like about Dr. Strange is that he doesn't necessarily look like a hero. He almost has a Snidely Whiplash look.

Jack: Dr. Strange will need another adversary if this is to continue—stories two and three are basically the same.

JS: Yeah, although this one mostly happened in reality, and not just the astral plane, where Baron Mordo's bad hair really stands out.

Jack: This is one of Ditko's more boring art jobs--three of five pages are nine equal panels and not much happens.

The Avengers #2

Our Story
The Space Phantom can assume any human vessel he desires (forcing the real person into a limbo until the alien takes another form). The vessels he desires at the moment are the newly formed super-group The Avengers. One by one, The Wasp, Hulk, Giant-Man, and Iron Man are possessed by the crafty creature and forced to do battle with one another. It’s only when Space Phantom attempts to overtake Thor, who is a God not a human, that The Avengers are able to send The Phantom into his own limbo. The fighting takes a toll on the group though and The Hulk decides he’s better off a solo act (with no book to go to though). The remaining heroes ponder what may be in store for them in the near future now that the green goliath is roaming the free world without a leash. They’ll find out very quickly.
PE: Like the episode before it, “The Avengers Battle The Space Phantom” is a casebook of tedious writing and lazy art. The Space Phantom is a villain with a potentially deadly power: he can transform himself into anyone. So, what does he do? He hatches a plan to morph into each member of the super-team for the sole purpose of initiating arguments. There has to be a quicker way of conquering earth. Kirby's art looks like photo-shop or one of those Marvel cartoons of the 1960s. The backgrounds are barely filled in.

JS: Yawn! Okay, so at least we got the freakiest looking villain since old Longface himself (The Wizard). But Ye Ole Space Phantom has a Wolverine hairstyle, decades before it would become all the rage. 
PE: Can The Wasp come off as more vacuous? Her constant comments like “Hmmm, he might be dangerous but he’s a hunk” or “I’d sure like to get to know that dreamy Thor better” make the Kirby/Lee team appear a bit, oh I don’t know, immature.

JS: What's with Thor pissing and moaning about The Hulk's shorts? 
PE: More in-team fighting from The House of Ideas. Iron Man calls Thor “Long Hair.” Hulk calls Giant Man stupid. The Wasp calls Thor adorable. Hulk calls Iron Man “rustpot.” How long before the novelty of bickering superheroes who come together in the end for the betterment of mankind wears thin for Stan Lee? 

JS: Ah, just two issues in, and it's one big happy family.
PE: The Space Phantom must thank his lucky stars when Rick Jones shows up to give him a brief bio on their history together.Of course, Rick must have sunstroke as he tells The Hulk that when he's on holiday he's Don Blake rather than Bruce Banner. Damn that Deadline Doom!
PE: Iron Man’s “chest plate accessory compartment” which houses a plethora of “expandable” devices continues to amaze me. We’ve only seen the beginning of it over in our coverage of Tales of Suspense. Here, Stark is able to hook up a huge hammer to his armor, one which ostensibly can fold up into a nice handkerchief size and be stored away for future use. Anyone out there seen a diagram of the full contents of Tony Stark’s “CPAC”? And say it ain’t so that Iron Man can unfurl a fully-stocked bar complete with stools but his suit will rust instantly if rained on!

Tales of Suspense #47

Our Story

The army is having problems with Stark Industries' new tanks: they seem to be melting. Though the military may suspect that Tony Stark is just another American businessman (ie taking billions of dollars and skimming off the top while using low-grade materials), we know differently, don't we, True Believers? Yes, the truth is that one of Stark's disgraced competitors, Bruno Horgan, has stumbled on the secret of iron-melting! Iron Man must reveal The Melter and stop his nasty hobby before Stark Industries is ruined. But what can Iron Man do when his newest foe has the power to melt his toughest iron suit? A bit of "rabbit up my sleeve" finally defeats The Melter but he escapes down a sewer hole. Is he drowned or will he resurface some day?
PE: As with most of this month's Marvel villains (or any month's, for that matter), we get a lot of head-scratching before Stan christens our villain The Melter. I'd have opted for The Iron Melter. Wasn't taken yet.

JS: Mister Melty? Melty Melter? 

PE: Although this art job is credited to Steve Ditko and Don Heck, I don't see a trace of Ditko here. What's the story?

PE: Department of "Marvel time really does move differently, doesn't it?" Iron Man's suit of iron is susceptible to The Melter's rays so Tony Stark takes time in the middle of all the action to redesign his armor in aluminum! That must take hours to do in real life!

JS: Stark's a bright guy... so how is it he had to have part of his suit melted to realize that this was a risk? Um, duh! Then again, this is the same braniac who's running to plug into a 110v outlet every 20 minutes. You think he'd invest some time in developing a battery pack of sorts.

PE: Even after a year's worth of stories and what I'd like to think of as a pretty good suspension of disbelief quota, I laugh every time I see Iron Man, in his clunky yellow suit, running down a corridor. I'm no scientist but that ain't gonna happen, folks.

JS: The way the suit moves, you wouldn't assume it was made of iron, but then it wouldn't have been susceptible to the Meltimator. 

PE: Just as Ant-Man has his "Ah, I've landed on a comfortable carpet of ants after my rubber-banded journey" dialogue that runs in each issue, so we have to put up with Iron Man's foes constantly saying "Ah, Iron Man, I'd heard you worked for Tony Stark and here you are in his factory/office/bed!"

JS: It's a good thing, too, since folks don't seem to have any trouble getting to the rich socialite.

PE: Spoiler Alert! The Melter didn't go down the drain to his doom but lived to fight another day. In fact, he'll pop up in another title in just a few months. He had the usual life of a third tier villain, a few starring roles here and there, and was eventually offed by a bad guy with the unwieldy name of Scourge of the Underworld (in Avengers #263). None of his fellow third-tiers attended the funeral nor did Stark Industries send flowers.

Fantastic Four #20

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An atomic testing accident transforms mild-mannered Owen Reece into the deadly Molecule Man, a man who can control molecules! Tipped off to the new villain by The Watcher, the Four return to their Baxter Building base to Baxter Building! In a wild coincidence, the fortress has been stolen by The Molecule Man. The Fantastic Four find they have their hands full with this new menace as he can turn anything into a deadly weapon. Luckily, Reed stumbles on The Molecule's Achilles' Heel: he can only alter inorganic molecules! After a ferocious battle, MM is defeated by the FF and carted away by The Watcher.

PE: Legend has it that Stan and Jack threw darts at a board and "Molecule Man" won over the other choices Mr. Molecule, The Mad Molecule, and simply The Molecule. A man who controls molecules would naturally be known universe-wide as The Molecule Man.

JS: What is it with Stan and Jack continually introducing super-villains with unlimited powers? And yet despite their ability to do basically anything, the FF once again saves the day within 22 pages (thanks to that fancy plaster coating disguise).

PE: It's never explained why Mr. Molecular has to use a wand like some whacked-out magician. If his body is the conductor, why a wand?

JS: Seriously? Johnny has to ask Reed what a molecule is? And this kid has his own comic book? Even Peter knows what molecules are...

PE: I know that Stan was simply trying to educate his younger readers by having Johnny Storm ask Reed Richards the definition of molecules but it makes the fiery hero come off as a bit of a dimwit. Having said that...I'd have appreciated a fuller explanation of how The Four managed to foil Mr. Molec's scheme by having Alicia cover them in plaster. 

PE: I would argue with The Watcher when he asserts he's not interfering with the human race by capturing MM and imprisoning him somewhere because the FF had already won the battle. No matter that the bad guy was probably still dangerous. I'd say "interference."

JS: The Watcher is looking rather jaundiced in the Masterworks edition. Funny how they go out of their way to talk about not getting involved in human affairs as they get involved in human affairs.

PE: This was the one and only appearance of this incarnation of The Molecule Man. Years after he's dispatched in our rousing climax, The Molecule Man creates an artificial man he adopts as his son. On his dying day he transfers his molecular power to that son, who becomes Molecule Man II and fights The Thing to avenge his father's death (Ben has a little help from The Man-Thing in that battle, which took place in the premiere issue of Marvel Two-In-One).

PE: Mark Gruenwald would one day create The Official Handbook of The Marvel Universe and write Captain America for ten years, but in 1963 he was the ten year-old secretary of The Fantastic Four Fan Club in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He also edited the comic fanzine, Omniverse. He died (at age 43) of a heart attack in 1996. Also in the Fantastic 4 Fan Page, we get a letter from none other than 15 year-old George R. Martin, who would grow up to become writer George R. R. Martin. Among Martin's many accomplishments is the multi-volume Wild Cards, a paperback series very much influenced by X-Men and other Marvel heroes. 

Amazing Spider-Man #6

Our Story

A man-sized lizard is terrorizing the Everglades. A challenge from J. Jonah Jameson sends Spider-Man to Florida to get to the bottom of what may just be an urban legend. Once there, Spidey finds The Lizard is anything but myth. But beneath the gruff exterior of the giant reptile lies a kind scientist named Curtis Connors. The renowned professor was working on a serum to grow new limbs by experimenting on reptiles. Not only does the professor want to help mankind but he’d like to grow a replacement for his missing right arm. The formula works but it comes with unfortunate side effects. Not only does the scientist take on the guise of a human lizard, he’s slowly but surely losing his human mind. Luckily for Dr. Connors, Spider-Man also happens to be Peter Parker, science major and very quickly the ace teenager has concocted an antidote. The professor is restored to human form and Spider-Man promises to keep Connors’ secret between the two of them.
PE: A new kind of Marvel villain: the sympathetic bad guy. Curt Connors only wants to be whole again. He doesn’t want to rule the world or destroy mankind. His Hulk-like other half certainly does, but we know that the doctor is a good guy and we root for Spider-Man to find a cure for him. It’s another fabulous origin tale for what would become an iconic Marvel super-villain. The notion that a scientist would use the DNA from reptiles to regenerate human tissue is not a prepostrous one, even 50 years later (it’s akin to the theory that motored Jurassic Park). I’m not a scientist but the idea seems rational.

JS: Everyone's freaked out by a talking Lizard man, but no one questions the fact that he wears a lab coat and purple pants. 

PE: I don’t think it’s spoiling much to reveal that The Lizard will return several times throughout the title in the next fifty years. The monster would get more and more vicious with every appearance, with the professor’s will evaporating each time, culminating in last year’s appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #631. The beast’s savagery hits an all time high (or low, depending who you talk to) when he attacks and devours his son Billy! Not a storyline you’d see developing in the Marvel Age of 1963.

JS: The Lizard was always my favorite Spider-Man villain—I always wanted the Mego doll. I even like him with his early look - the frog-like face. I do think it's kind of silly that when Doc Connors reverts to human form, he's missing the arm again. 
PE: It’s too bad Sam Raimi never got to use The Lizard in one of his Spider-Man films. He was grooming Curt Connors (who had been transplanted to Peter’s college) for a future appearance it seems but the Raimi reign ended before the professor (and actor Dylan Baker) could have his day in the sun. Word on the street is that The Lizard will be featured in the newly re-booted franchise. The Amazing Spider-Man is due in May 2012.

X-Men #2

Our Story

The newly formed teenage gang of superheroes faces their deadliest foe yet: a mutant named The Vanisher who can...vanish. When The Vanisher steals top secret files and blackmails our government, The X-Men step in to save the day. But in the end, Professor X must reveal his secret super power to end the threat and return the files to the American government.

PE: I hope that the formula of this strip begins to vary soon. The novelty of watching The X-Men members train in their danger room was interesting in the first issue but a bit repetitive by the second. The in-fighting we have to endure has been done to death two years after the first issue of Fantastic Four.

JS: There were a few surprises—like when Jean places the Angel's admirers atop a movie theater marquee! And when Professor X 'projects' a mental image on the wall!

PE: Most of the Marvel comics characters didn't face their iconic foe until several issues into their run. The X-Men had the unenviable dilemma of unveiling its greatest villain in the first issue. Nowhere to go but down (aka Thor and Human Torch rejected bad guys like The Vanisher).

JS: The Vanisher wins the award for dumbest looking super villain yet.

PE: I'm still not sure why The Vanisher made a big deal of popping into the Pentagon to announce he would be ripping off top secret files in a couple days. Why not just steal them right then and there. A character in the strip actually asks the same pertinent question but Stan Lee's not around to give an answer.

Journey Into Mystery #98

“Challenged By The Human Cobra”

Our Story

All-father Odin has this advice for his son: forget Jane Foster, but it is something the Thunder God cannot do. To get away from his troubles, Don Blake takes a spontaneous trip to India, where he overhears that Professor Shecktor, an old teacher of his, is dying from the bite of a king cobra. Speeding to his friend’s side, Blake is told by Shecktor, before he dies, that his assistant an ex-con named Klaus, had freed the cobra they had been studying (and Shecktor had secretly been exposing to radiation), which then bit them both. Klaus gave himself, but not Shecktor, the anti-venom, to make it look like an accident. As a result of the radiation, Klaus has developed the speed, strength, and cunning of a king cobra, with human intelligence to boot, and is calling himself the Cobra. Thor sets out to avenge his friend’s death, following the trail of the Cobra to a chemical plant in the U.S., where the reptilian creature demands the plant’s resources to create a subservient race of snakey creatures. The Thunder God finds the Cobra and seems to gain the upper hand in the battle, but loses him in the fog of venomous “cobra gas”. Ironically, when the Cobra breaks into a doctor’s office to steal some supplies, it is none other than that of a certain Dr. Andrews, who recently employed a nurse named … Foster (what a small world!). Andrew’s cowardice in the face of danger convinces Jane that it was a mistake to leave Don Blake and she manages to alert a passing by Thor to her need for help. Thor saves his beloved Jane, but in the confusion, the Cobra again escapes.

This month, “Tales Of Asgard” relates the tale of Odin’s battle against the Ice Giants, including their fearful leader, Ymir, called King Laufey in the recent Thor movie.

JB: Here’s yet another villain created by radioactivity; well at least it wasn’t Loki or the Reds. Let me see, what radioactive animal do I want to be bitten by, to get some super powers? Still, the Cobra is a decent foe, soon to team up with Mr. Hyde.

JB: Don Heck does an interesting job with the art, with some different angles, and proportions, including a perky-looking Jane Foster.

JS: Stan couldn't stand to leave Lame Don Blake on his own for a single issue, so we get Jane Foster back by this issue's conclusion.

JS: I guess it was a bit early in the Marvel tenure for Jane Foster to go out the way of Gwen Stacy. I'm curious if anyone else had such a flash forward

JS: I thought a tale of Odin fighting Ice Giants would be a surefire winner, however the Tales from Asgard installment in this issue left me wanting.

Also this month
Kid Colt Outlaw #113
Millie the Model #117
Modeling with Millie #27
Patsy Walker #111
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #4
Two-Gun Kid #66

Fury and his Commandos are charged with sneaking into Berlin and "rescuing" a radio broadcaster named Lord Ha-Ha in "Lord Ha-Ha's Last Laugh" (Sgt Fury #4). The reason to make the trek is two-fold: Lord Ha-Ha is Berlin's equivalent of Tokyo Rose and to bring him back to England would be a morale booster to the troops. He also happens to be the son of Peter Hawley, who has lots of friends in high places. Hawley, who thinks his son has been brainwashed, wants the man whisked out of Germany pronto. Aided by the underground, Fury and his men disguise themselves as a circus troop but when they reach Ha-Ha, he's a bit reluctant to go.
Saving a train from a robbery by Bull Barton, Kid Colt comes to the attention of territorial governor McDonald Morgan, who promises a full pardon if the Kid will put his gun down for a full month. Getting there is not easy as Colt wanders from incident to incident where his six-shooters would come in handy. Just when he thinks he's out of it, they drag him back in! Worst of all, he has to deal with "The Revenge of Bull Barton" (Kid Colt Outlaw #113).
It's "Revenge" month at the Marvel Western Round-Up. Matt Hawk aka Two-Gun Kid finds himself "Trapped By Ringo's Raiders" (Two-Gun Kid #66). Years ago, Two-Gun broke up a bank robbery by Jace Ringo and Ringo has never really forgiven him for it. Well, Jace is out of jail and Two-Gun finds that the pokey didn't really make the robber see the error of his ways. He's planning his next heist while still behind bars. Luckily, the town of Tombstone has their very own guardian angel.


  1. Actually, sharp-eyed readers will note that he was already dubbed The Living Eraser by the cover (if not the interior) of this issue of ASTONISHING TALES. For some reason, I always found ol' Pencil-Tip a strangely charming, if admittedly goofy, villain in his MTIO return. And although I enjoy Dr. Pym in any identity, I usually seemed to prefer Giant-Man to Ant-Man.

    Thought I remembered seeing a cover reproduced in the last post or two that actually said something like, "Announcing the Marvel Age of Comics!" Was going to comment on that apparently being the first use of the phrase, but obviously it got lost in the shuffle. Might be worth somebody's taking another look.

    Agree with Pete on the mishandling of the would-be Lizard in the Spidey movies. Why introduce Connors, whetting everyone's appetite for the Lizard, and then fail to follow through? Duh.

  2. Yup, there it is on the cover of last week's/month's STRANGE TALES ANNUAL #2: "The Marvel Comics Group Ushers in the Marvel Age of Comics!" So unless anybody can come up with an earlier instance...

  3. Matthew, it was TALES TO ASTONISH, not ASTONISHING TALES. That would come later with the ultra-cool Deathlok and the less cool Ka-Zar.

    The comment about shrinkage and Giant Man makes me think of George Costanza, which leads to a question regarding Ant-Man, Giant-Man, and The Wasp that is not appropriate for a family blog.

    George Martin's letter is charming! It's nice to see that a kid in 1963 had a different view of these comics than we jaded folk do today.

    I always liked the Lizard, too. It seems like these early SPIDER-MAN comics are a cut above the rest of the Marvel titles.

    I finally saw the Captain America movie last week and I was sitting there thinking--wow, that guy with the hat and beard looks like the guy from the Howling Commandos. Eventually, I got with the program.

    I never read Western comics as a kid--they always made me uncomfortable. I wonder if it was the realistic portrayals of guns, which were very much verboten in my house in the Vietnam era.

  4. Kudos and apologies to Professor Jim Barwise for today's posting. For some reason, Prof. Jim's essential comments on Thor kept disappearing but, like Jane Foster on her first date with The Mighty Thor, Prof. Jim kept swinging away and we're all the better for it.

  5. My apologies to you guys for not being ahead of the game enough to solve the problem in advance! Onward Marvel!

  6. Jack: Thanks, fellow Deathlok-fan, for the correction. TALES TO ASTONISH, ASTONISHING TALES--who'd ever mix those up? ;-) So much for my self-congratulatory remark about "sharp-eyed readers."

    I remember making the "shrinkage" connection in a comment a few posts back.

    Amusingly, while watching CAPTAIN AMERICA, I was thinking, "Isn't it cool to have a character so recognizable [i.e., Dum Dum] that the audience knows him the second he appears on the screen?" Well, yes and no... Funny that they seemed to bend over backward not to identify Fury overtly, unless I missed something (which, knowing me, is always possible).

    You're right, Marvel seemed to hit its stride with Webhead much faster than with many other characters.

    And thanks to Jim for mentioning the always interesting Cobra-Hyde team.


  7. Prof. Bradley!

    I thought Captain America: The Movie was a lot of fun. I'm not sure what the writers were trying to do, not introducing the Commandos (I thought Quentin Tarantino borrowed a bit from the Commandos for his Inglorious Basterds) but I suspect they'll mention something in The Avengers Movie about that actually being Fury's granddad (unless Fury took some kind of wonder drug and stayed young).

  8. Believe it or not, in the comics, he DID take some kind of wonder drug and stay young, as they explained in a one-shot Fury issue of MARVEL SPOTLIGHT (or was that SPOTLIGHTING TALES?), c. #32, although I won't cheat and look it up. Regardless, I agree, the movie was great.

    Oh, and one other INCREDIBLY AMAZING thing happened in November 1963: my beautiful wife was born. But so far she hasn't been the subject of a comic book, Marvel or otherwise.