Tag Archives: Stan Lee

Marvel’s Top Ten Stories: 1961-1965

Presenting, just for fun, Marvel Comics’ ten best stories from 1961-1965!

Why only a five-year period? For proper apples-to-apples comparisons, firstly. The comics medium has changed quite a bit over the years, so it’s hardly fair to compare, say, ten-year-old comics to fifty-year-old comics. Plus, the shorter period is more manageable and allows me to highlight more great books over time—sometimes complete storylines, sometimes standout single issues, whatever is merited. (I’ll get to later periods…eventually. And note that these are grouped by release date, not cover date.)

So we begin at the dawn of the Marvel Universe. True, many books from this era don’t hold up particularly well, not to the adult reader. They are dated indeed. But in the foundation of each series are strong, enduring concepts and flawed but heroic characters that people of varied backgrounds can relate to. Plus, the old comics offer plenty of charm with their fast-paced displays of free-flowing imagination. Looking back on these early issues, it’s not hard to see why the characters have survived the decades.

(Spoilers ahead, but these came out over five decades ago, so…)

Let’s get to it. As Stan Lee would say, Face Front, True Believers! Make Mine Marvel! Excelsior! ’Nuff Said!

Wait. Not ’Nuff Said yet. We need the list…

10) The Amazing Spider-Man #3 (by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko)

The superhero genre has a simple but effective formula: The hero almost loses to the villain but ultimately prevails, often improving him or herself along the way. Doctor Octopus’s debut shows an early example of that formula in action, back when flawed superheroes were still a fresh idea. As the book opens, Spider-Man is feeling supremely confident in his crimefighting abilities, and he’s itching for a challenge.

And he gets one, and he gets clobbered, leading Peter to wonder if he’s even cut out for this superhero lifestyle after all. So he’s got a choice: quit, or try again but do it better this time.

Peter Parker is still growing into his role at this stage, and that’s part of what made this series so novel—the superhero was actually growing as a person.

And we haven’t seen the last of Spider-Man on this list. The Amazing Spider-Man was easily Marvel’s strongest series of this era. Continue reading

Today’s Super Comic — Ultimate Spider-Man #5 (2001)

I’ve heard people complain that origin stories are boring. That’s a misleading statement, though. How characters gain their powers generally isn’t all that interesting. Why they decide to use those powers to help others…that’s the interesting part. That’s when the characters are at their most dynamic.

Peter Parker getting bitten by a radioactive spider is a utilitarian plot device. At best, it qualifies as an attention-getting inciting incident. But Peter deciding not to stop a thief, and that thief then murders his uncle, thereby supplying Spider-Man with motivation for all future stories? That’s the compelling part.

When Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original story ran in Amazing Fantasy #15 back in 1962, it packed a surprising amount of depth for an eight-or-so-page comic story. In 2000-01, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley expanded it to six issues for the inaugural storyline of Ultimate Spider-Man, which gave us a modern teenage Spidey free from any continuity baggage (until the Ultimate line amassed its own messy continuity, that is, but Spider-Man had the only series that remained strong throughout).

The story deserved this expanded retelling. The extra length allows us to spend more time on each significant moment, and issue #5 depicts the defining night of young Peter’s life. He’s just learned his Uncle Ben was murdered, but his recently acquired powers allow him to at least apprehend the killer.

Bendis and Bagley take us from Peter’s anger, to his shock at recognizing the killer, to his anger at himself, to his guilt, to his understanding of what his uncle was always trying to teach him, and ultimately to a heartrending final page. Peter wasn’t Spider-Man in the first four issues; he is by the end of this one. The creators utilize the extra space to such superb effect, it makes it all the more impressive that Lee and Ditko nailed the story in so few pages all those years ago.

Whether told in eight pages or more than a hundred, Spider-Man’s origin story holds up as among the greatest—not because of any sci-fi spider bites, but because he learned a life-changing lesson through tragic failure.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Penciler: Mark Bagley

Inker: Art Thibert

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Ultimate Spider-Man vol. 1: Power and Responsibility (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Fantastic Four Annual #1 (1963)

Fantastic_Four_Annual_Vol_1_1Marvel’s early Silver Age was in top form in the Fantastic Four’s first annual.

The story, the FF’s longest-ever at the time, builds on elements previously established, such as the attraction between Namor and Sue Storm. Namor has finally found his Atlantean race, and they declare war on the surface world.

What’s most interesting, and groundbreaking for the era, is how Namor meets his defeat. (I’m going to spoil the ending, but this story is 53 years old, so…) The FF don’t succeed in overpowering the Sub-Mariner, but when the Invisible Girl is seriously hurt, Namor drops everything to get her to a hospital. The Atlanteans see this as a betrayal and abandon him, leaving Namor ostracized both on land and in the sea.

The issue represents what ‘60s Marvel was all about—epic action and big sci-fi ideas, all grounded in character. Sure, it’s dated, but it remains a fun time nevertheless because of the colorful characters inhabiting this imaginative world.

As a bonus, we get a short back-up story that expands a scene from The Amazing Spider-Man #1, in which Spidey crashes in on the FF’s home. And we all know what inevitably happens when 1960s Marvel superheroes meet for the first time…

Writer: Stan Lee

Penciler: Jack Kirby

Inker: Dick Ayers

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in The Essential Fantastic Four vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 8 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Amazing Spider-Man #11 (1964)

Amazing_Spider-Man_Vol_1_11Catch-up post 3/4!

The best comic book series in the 1960s was easily The Amazing Spider-Man. More than any other book at the time, Spider-Man put character first and did so without skimping on the excitement. It set the template for many teenage superheroes to follow, but at the time there wasn’t anything quite like it.

Issue #11 serves as a great example of a typically solid ‘60s Spidey story, incorporating relationship drama, well-choreographed action, and a fallible hero. I first read this one as a kid in the ‘90s, about thirty years after it debuted, and I loved it. It’s not timeless, but it holds up remarkably well compared to its contemporaries.

Doctor Octopus returns for (I think) only his second appearance…and who’s that picking him up as he’s released from prison? Why, it’s Betty Brant, Daily Bugle secretary and Peter Parker’s first girlfriend. How about that? Should Peter maybe reconsider his decision to tell her he’s Spider-Man?

Stan Lee’s story is plenty engaging, and Steve Ditko’s layouts bring the action to life. And to spice up the typical hero/villain confrontation, Spidey sprains his ankle right before the fight starts. And that’s classic Spider-Man in a nutshell—he’s the guy who hurts himself before the bad guys even get the chance.

Writer: Stan Lee

Penciler: Steve Ditko

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in The Essential Spider-Man vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 8 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Fantastic Four #25 (1964)

Fantastic Four 25A classic slugfest, and the greatest Thing vs. Hulk battle ever put to four colors as the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby collaboration really begins to hit its stride.

The Hulk is rampaging. The Human Torch and the Invisible Girl don’t have the raw strength to hold their own against him. Mr. Fantastic is out of commission with a mysterious flu. The Avengers haven’t arrived on the scene yet. That leaves the Thing as the only person in the city with any prayer of taking down the Hulk. As strong as the Thing is, though, he’s seriously out of his weight class here.

But that doesn’t stop him from giving the Hulk everything he’s got.

It’s the superhero as the underdog, a tale of perseverance (something I’m always a sucker for). Back when superheroes seldom lost, this issue showed how there are multiple ways for the good guy to “win.”

Writer: Stan Lee

Artist: Jack Kirby

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; Essential Fantastic Four vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: 8 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Fantastic Four #51 (1966)

Fantastic_Four_51This may be an old one, but it also holds up as among the finest Fantastic Four stories of all time.

An unnamed scientist, who envies Reed Richards’s success, lures the self-pitying Thing into his apartment and steals his powers, reverting Ben Grimm to human form. Posing as the Thing, this scientist infiltrates the FF as Reed is trying create faster-than-light travel in his quest to build defenses against threats like Galactus (the world was almost eaten like yesterday). He’s preparing to embark on a one-man exploration of sub-space, but he’s depending on the Thing to keep him anchored to their own dimension. When Reed gets into trouble, this nameless scientist has a chance to show what kind of man he truly is.

It’s a short but incredibly effective redemption tale during which not a single punch is thrown. If last year’s Fantastic Four movie left a bad taste in your mouth, rinse it out with this and observe the classic writer/artist team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in top form.

Writer: Stan Lee

Artist: Jack Kirby

Publishers: Marvel

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Essential Fantastic Four vol. 3 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 8 and up