If you like Marvel comics, or the movies and television shows that have spun off of Marvel comics, the 1960s are a supremely awesome time to explore. Superhero comics had gone out of vogue decades earlier, with only a few stalwart heroes from DC comics, such as Superman and Batman, existing in a universe of Western, Science Fiction, and Horror comics. Marvel published titles such as Journey into Mystery and Tales to Astonish, which featured some new alien or high tech menace every month threatening the safety of the United States. Maybe one thing Marvel doesn’t want us to remember from the 1960s is the lack of marquee comic characters in the first part of the decade.
All of this changed in late 1962 when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (possibly the greatest comic duo in history) created the Fantastic Four. The superhero comic at Marvel was back in a big way, and within 12 months Marvel began populating its new superhero universe with a rapid fire succession of iconic characters. The Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, Daredevil, The X-Men, Iron Man, and so forth, all created in such a short period of time makes one marvel (see what I did there) how Stan Lee did it, pumping out book after book and, seen with the benefit of hindsight, redefining a form of art and entertainment that only gets more and more important every year. This was a true renaissance, but although Stan is a great writer, and he assembled a wonderful team of artists and other writers to help maintain the Marvel world, not everything from the 1960s was good. A lot of downright strange ideas were quietly discarded by the company, but if you have access to some of these early Marvel stories, these bad decisions are still readily visible.
10. Mr. Fantastic Was A Misogynist
The Fantastic Four was touted as the World’s Greatest Super Team, and while the three men were pretty super with their outlandish abilities, Susan Storm’s power was literally to remain unseen and unheard. The battles of Fantastic Four generally followed a pattern where the men would fight some menace while Sue hid and then at the last minute flipped a lever or fired a gun that helped turn the tide of battle for the men. It wasn’t until a few years later that the Invisible Woman developed her force field power that allowed the character to move from her sexist role into one more equal to the men, but this stride in egalitarianism was often undercut by the way Mr. Fantastic constantly treated Sue as inferior. He loved her clearly, but there were many instances of Mr. F berating Sue for letting her female emotions cloud the situation or being too feminine when she needed to be stronger.
A lot of eye rolling goes into reading Fantastic Four from the 1960’s, especially since Sue generally agreed with her husband: “Yes, Reed I was being silly and female and I apologize”. And this couple was supposed to be intelligent and sophisticated?
9. Professor X Was Inappropriate
In the first issue of X-men, we were introduced to not only a team of super human teenagers, but the concept of mutation that has become a corner stone of the Marvel universe. It is exciting to see the genesis of the idea we all know as part of pop culture lexicon (first appearance of Magneto, too) but one aspect of the first few issues Marvel wishes we would forget about. In the modern movies, the love triangle among Cyclops, Jean Gray, and Wolverine was explored, and in the early comics a similar triangle appeared among Cyclops, Jean, and the Angel, but initially Professor X (admitting this to himself in thought bubble) also had a major crush on Jean! Yeah, she was a high school student, and he was old enough to at least be her dad. Wrong on many levels, and quickly dropped when Stan Lee realized this would only lead to terrible places in the narrative. Excelsior?
8. Peter Parker Was Kind Of A Jerk
The early Spider-Man comics don’t really address anything about Peter’s parents or how he feels about them not being in his life, focusing instead on the hole that Uncle Ben’s death left in Peter and May Parker’s life, and her failing health. It seems like Peter had a fair amount of aggression pent up though in his high school days. In a lot of the early comics, Peter is very aggressive with anyone around him that gives him any kind of lip. Flash Thompson bullies Peter because he is supposed to be the bully jock character, but Peter gives as good as he gets, constantly pushing Thompson to the point of being bellicose rather than avoiding Thompson or turning the other cheek. He becomes angry and frustrated anytime his crush Betty Brant expresses jealousy or concern over Peter’s strange disappearances (having to become a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man), and constantly fights with the Human Torch for no reason at all! Maybe Stan was emphasizing the raging hormones of teenagers here, but the “friendly” part of Spider-Man’s call sign was noticeably absent in his 1960’s high school days.
7. The Incredible Hulk Was Supposed To Be Grey
When Bruce Banner was irradiated by Gamma radiation in May 1962, his first issue and appearance, Stan Lee envisioned the good doctor transforming into a monstrous, grey form with incalculable strength and aggression. Lee wanted to avoid the Hulk being any kind of human skin tone to stress his non human nature, and grey seemed like a good idea. However, the grey color was difficult to produce consistently, and Lee was encouraged by his team to choose a color a little easier to work with. Lee decided on green for the next issue, and the current emerald hued Hulk debuted. Marvel pretended that this color change had never happened and made Hulk green in reprints of his first issue until the 1980’s when they came up with a reason for the color change. But if it wasn’t so difficult to produce, the Hulk may have stayed grey forever.
6. Irving Forbush
If you go to a comic store right now and pick up a copy of, say, the Avengers, you will read a story about bravery and danger in the face of adversity because the current focus of comics is on plot and art work. This is what modern readers are used to, but in the 1960s Stan Lee chose to focus as well on the storytelling element itself, reminding us we were reading a comic as we actually read it. The magazines produced by Marvel in the 1960s were as much about Stan telling the story as they were about the actual events in the story, which led to Irving Forbush, a fictional employee of Marvel that Stan Lee constantly harassed in the margins of his narrative.
Forbush was supposedly a member of the Marvel Bullpen who Stan lovingly ribbed as often as he could. Forbush was even mentioned once in an issue of Spider-Man. Eventually, the Marvel team used Forbush as a fictional character for their humor comics, but as far as him being an actual person, that idea disappeared at the end of the 1960s.
5. X-Men’s Slim Summers?
At the end of 1963, the X-men arrived on the scene, a group of gifted teens that would use their extra power to fight threats against humanity. Hank, Warren, Slim, Bobby, and Jean seemed like normal teens except … wait, who the heck is Slim? Slim Summers was the no nonsense super thin boy who could fire optic beams from his eyes and called himself Cyclops. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but Stan quickly came to his senses and began calling his character Scott by issue two, marking the first time in history that the named Scott seemed more badass than something else. Also, Hank McCoy, the rough and tumble Beast who is now considered one of the most intelligent characters in the Marvel Universe wasn’t so smart at first. The character was portrayed as more of a tough jock until the third issue of X-men in 1964 when he began pontificating like the pedagogue we know and love.
4. Donald Blake or Thor?
When Thor made his debut in Journey into Mystery, he appeared as a weak, lanky surgeon named Donald Blake, who, while on vacation, stumbles upon a magic walking stick that grants him the power of Thor. In his first issue, the narrative strongly implies that Blake had been granted the powers of Thor and made into a near doppelganger of the god of legend. However, just a few issues later Thor began encountering the actual gods of Asgard, including nefarious Loki, who treated Blake as if he was the real Thor. Blake himself began traveling to Asgard and acting as if he was in the presence of his real family and friends. This created a considerable amount of confusion for the character. Was Blake actually Thor or a duplicate of Thor in human form? Marvel comics left this issue unanswered for almost the entire decade, most likely trying to find some way to actually explain their mistake. They finally came up with a nice, logical idea that Blake was actually the fake and Thor had been tricked to think he was the doctor, but the entire debacle placed a negative light on Marvel’s writing team of the 1960’s.
3. Adding To The 1940’s Golden Age
When Captain America and Bucky Barnes were both apparently killed by Baron Zemo at the end of their comic in the 1940’s, it was a heartbreaking way to put an end to the series, making fans overjoyed when the Captain made his frozen return in issue 4 of the Avengers in 1963. But wait, Captain America and Bucky never died in the 1940’s and Baron Zemo was not introduced until later in 1964. Stan Lee and the Marvel crew used the Avengers comic as a medium to resurrect the Captain for a modern audience and allow his previous series in the Golden Age of comics to have a resolution. Readers may have been left scratching their heads wondering how they had missed these exploits two decades earlier and not realizing that the “flashbacks” given to us by Marvel were just as new as the rest of the story itself. Nick Fury and the Howling were similarly added to 1940’s canon even though they were created in the 1960’s.
2. Namor Was A Bum
Another character from the 1940’s was Namor, the Sub-Mariner who fought on behalf of the oceans of the Earth in early Marvel comics. Marvel brought Namor back to the modern Marvel universe in the early 1960’s during Fantastic Four issue 4 and used him as a villain. The explanation for his disappearance? Amnesia and too much time spent in the world of man. The Human Torch finds Namor living as a homeless person and re-triggers his memories after reading about Namor in one of those previously mentioned comics from the 1940’s. This was sometimes a blessing and curse as Namor is a notorious flip- flopper when it comes to ethics, but it is hard to imagine how the undersea prince, who merged with the Phoenix Force in A vs. X , survived the destruction of the universe in Secret Wars, eating in a soup kitchen and living in a halfway house in New York.
1. Tony Stark’s Actual Transformation Into Iron Man
In the popular Iron Man movies, Tony is captured by a terrorist organization in the Middle East who appear to be some sort of Islamic fundamentalist group and must develop his lauded fusion reactor to power his suit and keep his heart beating. But in the 1960’s, the United States had a deep regard for the Middle East and sympathized with their struggles against the Soviet Union. Plus Stan Lee’s grasp on science was not the best (an issue of Journey into Mystery had Thor create anti matter particles with his hammer and then literally blow them on an object to bring it in sync with reality) so Fusion was out. The real story is Tony was captured by the Vietnamese during the Vietnam war and powered his suit with super magnets.
I guess Middle Eastern terrorists resonate more with modern film audiences than North Korean forces (which would probably be, in the eyes of Hollywood, the closest modern equivalent to the Vietnamese of the 1960’s) although we all know the last thing the United States needs is more negative publicity for Muslims.
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