[Mar. 14, 1962] State of the Art (Marvel Comics: May 1962)

by Gideon Marcus

With just three weeks to go before I attend the comics-themed science fiction convention in the Los Angeles area known as “Wonder Con,” I think it’s high time for an update on what’s going on in the world of Marvel Comics.  As I related earlier, Marvel (formerly Atlas) seems bent on rebuilding a stable of superheroes to complement their line-up of Westerns and Model mags. 

Last year saw the introduction of the Fantastic Four, which is now up to issue #4.  More on them later.  This month, the new superbeing is The Incredible Hulk.  I hesitate to use the word “hero” since The Hulk doesn’t seem to be a good character, at least, not yet.

Dr. Bruce Banner is a brilliant physicist, in charge of development of the “G Bomb.”  This device doesn’t seem to do much expect shoot out a burst of gamma rays.  In the Marvel universe, this appears to cause unpredictable (but non-deadly) instant mutations. 

As the countdown for the first test approaches, a young man drives out onto the test grounds.  Banner, a man of conscience, races out to help him.  The doctor’s treacherous assistant, a Soviet spy, activates the bomb anyway, and Banner takes the full brunt of the blast.

This turns Banner, at least temporarily, into a Mr. Hyde-type character.  He is possessed of incredible strength and an implacable desire to destroy.  The Hulk (so named by a terrified soldier) still retains some human intellect, but he does not know that he was originally a human scientist.

It turns out that Banner’s transformation is tied to the day/night cycle.  As the sun dawns, The Hulk reverts to his original form.  For at least twelve hours a day (more, at the poles!) Banner is himself.

Of course, no supercreature exists in a vacuum.  There is a fundamental corollary of Newton’s 3rd Law in the comics universe.  The Hulk’s nemesis is a deformed Communist supergenius: The Gargoyle!

There’s not much of a fight here.  Gargoyle incapacitates The Hulk and his sidekick (the rescued youth)

But in the flight back to Russia, the gray beast becomes Banner again.  The scientist uses his terrific brain to revert the Gargoyle, who was created with radiation, too, to human form.  This robs him of his superpowers, but lets him die… a man!

I leave it as an exercise for the reader whether it is better to be ugly and gifted or comely and unremarkable.

Inside this issue of The Hulk, there was an ad for two other Marvel mags.  They just happen to ones I’m already inclined to pick up, so I’ll give you a peek in them, too:

“The Magazine that Respects your Intelligence” and “The one that doesn’t!”

Marvel goes in for anthology mags.  Amazing Adult Fantasy is essentially watered-down The Twilight Zone.

For instance, the self-aware vignette about the fellow who gets taken to Mars and ends up in a zoo (like that The Twilight Zone episode with Roddy McDowell, q.v.).

Or jokey bit about how Stan and Steve come up with ideas…

Or the one about the Castro lookalike who is killed by the plague after shooting down the American plane that was coming to (not) Cuba with the cure…

Or the title piece about the fellow who breaks the time barrier and comes back to a frozen Earth…

You decide whether or not these stories respect your intelligence.

Over in Fantastic Four, The Torch has a tiff and leaves the group.  Collateral damage ensues:

That’s just the B plot.  The A plot introduces a new supervillain, though he doesn’t seem all bad.  It is Namor, the Sub-Mariner, who first appeared back in a Marvel predecessor mag back in 1939!  He has lost his memories and is residing in a skid-row rehabilitation house.  But the Forceful Four coax his memories back, and the Lord of Liquid vows revenge for humanity’s ravaging of the seas.

But first, he takes a detour down Lovers’ Lane…

Honestly, I think she’s better off than with Reed, destroyer of motorcycles, diminisher of women.

Can Namor be defeated?  Do we even want him to be?  You’ll just have to read the magazine and find out!  It’s probably worth your time just for all the beefcake (fishcake?) this issue features…

See you in the funny papers!

12 thoughts on “[Mar. 14, 1962] State of the Art (Marvel Comics: May 1962)”

  1. At this date I am 21 years old, an undergraduate student at Southern Methodist University in Dallas Texas. Marvel as a comic publisher morphed from Timely Comics -> Atlas Comics in 1961 I didn’t even notice these comics, at this date, I did see Fantastic Four on the news stand, and it did nothing for me. I had started out on Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman in the 1940s , I no longer read those, had not since I was 12 years old. Only comics that interested me in the 1950s was EC, MAD, Weird Science, Tales from the Crypt, etc., … lost interest in MAD when Harvey Kurtzman left. I was more interested in prose SF, was drawn to that and lost interest in superheroes by the age of 13. I have been picking up Kurtzman’s HELP! recently, very funny!

  2. Thanks for the glimpses of what the comics are up to. The SubMariner sounds a good idea; I wouldn’t mind a long story being a bit preachy, if it means we see some underwater life. Even Willard Price’s Underwater Adventure should have been a bit more underwater.

    My personal forecast is the werewolf with uranium sparkles becomes quickly and deservedly extinct.

      1. So what happens when Robin grows up and gets his own gig?

        “Stand down, villain!  I am Robin the superhero!”

        “Robin?  ROBIN?  What kind of superhero name is Robin?” [laughter]

  3. I don’t know, these Marvel comics just don’t seem to work for me. How much story can you really build around a big, gray galoot with a hepcat sidekick? One thing I will give them is that as ridiculous as their heroes’ origins are, the stories seem to be a little more mature than we’ve seen since the introduction of the Comics Code. Maybe they’ll give National a push away from the utter silliness that has infected Superman and Batman of late.

  4. Ah, more comics talk! I like the FF because their discord is more realistic than the Justice League (who I also like) and their perfect personalities. The FF have flaws like all of us, and they don’t always get along, like most families … and that’s essentially what they are, one big (mostly) happy family.

    As for the Hulk, I think there’s a bit of the old Frankenstein syndrome at work there. I also think Stan might be hedging his bets a bit, trying to do a superhero comic AND a monster comic in one. I can’t blame him for being reluctant to jettison the monsters … after all, they pretty much sustained Timely through the 50s. But I’m not sure if the combination will work in the long run; I suspect he’ll have to pick a side sooner or later.

    1. Many of my readers have commented on the Frankenstein/Wolfman similarities.  Monsters and weird stories are still big — that said, if F4 is a big success, I suspect we’ll see The Hulk heading in a more superhero-ey direction.

      1. Frankenstein and/or the Wolfman seem less appropriate to me than your own Jekyll and Hyde analogy – which was certainly the first comparison thought of.

        I’m not much for comics as an adult, I have to admit. I would read all the Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse comics, of course, when I was a kid! And – if we’re being honest – of the super-heroes, Captain America will always have a place in my heart. (The real one from the war, not that horrible update from about ten years ago, but I’m sure that goes almost without saying.)

        No, I was more of a Big Little Book reader at that age – Katzenjammer Kids, Little Orphan Annie, all the G-Men books, and oh, Brick Bradford! Brick wasn’t much of a character, but I loved the places he went. If these new comics can manage to be a more grown-up version of that sort of adventure, I would absolutely start paying attention.

        Maybe I should give Fantastic Four another couple of issues. I’ve wasted enough money on subpar issues of not-so-astounding Analog, what’s a few comics?

  5. Comics and Carl Barks, …the good duck artist! Barks worked at Disney for only a short while, later did Donald Duck comics under license. Barks was genius, he surrounded Donald with a cast of characters that took over the narrative, in particular Scrooge McDuck. Even at 8 years old I noticed how Barks style trumped other Donald Duck artists, at a later date I noticed that these comic pages contained a genial satirical bent and bit of dry off the wall humor. Barks’ name was not even known until the early 1960s, even as his fans had noted his work for nearly 20 years. Even tho Barks was associated with Disney he outside the Disney factory.
    Here in the early 1960s I suddenly realize Warner Bros. Cartoons are as much for adults as kids. Looney Tunes 40’s and 50’s is subversively satirical, it’s hard to miss. My flagging interest in Warner cartoons was jived up in the 50’s with Coyote-Road Runner. Warner is unique in the short feature film. However I always wanted Sylvester kill Tweety Bird , … is that problem?

  6. I bet in just a few years we will get to see a F4 live action film. Maybe even a couple of them! I am sure they will be just swell. What could possibly go wrong?

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