My history with Marvel Comics came up in a conversation I had last week with my good friend Lorinda. I was telling her about the new Marvel movie I saw in the theatre and a magnificent theatre it is. Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, is the latest Marvel movie to be released. An awesome movie featuring one of my all-time favorite Marvel Characters and comics. That got me thinking about my history with Marvel Comics. I’ve always been a huge Marvel fan since I first saw a Marvel comic on the comicbook spin rack. And now I get to experience that same enjoyment watching my favorite characters on the big screen.
On that fateful day when I walked into the small neighborhood corner store and saw a cover highlighting Spider-Man weighed down by metal beams with water pouring down on him as he struggled to escape the trap it caught my eye. Even though I didn’t continue to follow Spider-Man, I was hooked on Marvel Comics. I discovered not only the Avengers (which was confusing as I had been watching the Avengers, a British TV show but that’s a story for another day) but also Nick Fury Agent of Shield. That was the true beginning of my nerd journey involving Marvel Comics.
As a kid, I had a paper route. That gave me spending money and the ability to buy my Marvel comics. Plus, the paper route conveniently ended right next to that corner store where I initially found Marvel comics. A coincidence? I think not. It was all part of a master plan. 😉 A master plan that led me to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And a journey that includes me writing a book about a comic nerd, The Comicbook Detective. An adventure not unlike Spidey battling that heavy weight. But first here’s some background on how the journey got started.
When I first started reading comics, I discovered Mad Magazine as I’ve mentioned in the past, but the first comicbook I read was, I’m quite sure, not a Marvel comic but a Gold Key comic that featured my favorite TV show from the 60s, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which I watched religiously.
By the time The Man from U.N.C.L.E. show had started there had been two or maybe three James Bond movies, I’m pretty sure. I was a huge James Bond fan. As was any sane kid in the mid-60s. Hence my interest in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV show. A show that each week pitted Super Spies against Master Villains, as the villains attempted to take over the world ala James Bond and his nemesis Spectre. Then I found the comic that featured Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. Main characters in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV show. That preceded my discovery of Marvel comics but not for long.
When I saw that Spider-Man comic, Marvel comics became my only comic company. I was a full-blown Marvel Zombie. My favorites were The Avengers (of course) and Nick Fury. That was a gleeful day when I stumbled onto Nick Fury. I got not only my comicbook fix but my James Bond fix all in one beautiful package. In the mid-60s when I was reading comics Marvel was experimenting with featuring two hero’s in one comic. So, there was Tales to Astonish, which had originally featured the Hulk and then introduced Antman and the Sub-Mariner. Then there was Tales of Suspense where Iron Man was introduced and after his introduction in Avenger number three Captain America became the co-feature and joined Iron Man. And finally, there was Strange Tales.
Strange Tales would change my life as it featured Nick Fury Agent of Shield. Not the Samuel Jackson Nick Fury that we know today, but a grizzled World War II veteran, Sgt Nick Fury (yes, the original Nick Fury was a white guy) who head-lined his own comic, Sgt Fury and his Howling Commandos, before becoming the director of Shield. War comics were a popular genre and Sgt Fury was a popular Marvel character and comic. Then due to the popularity of James Bond and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Marvel decided to join the spy craze. They chose Nick Fury. The first Nick Fury story debuted in Strange Tales #135 in 1965.
Then I came along in 1967 and discovered Strange Tales. By this time both Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (the creators of both the Marvel Universe and Nick Fury) had moved on from Strange Tales and an unknown artist/writer took over. Steranko. Single named person long before Madonna or Prince. Granted he did have a first name but throughout his career he’s been known as Steranko. He had an interesting backstory before making history with Nick Fury and Shield. He’d worked in advertising and was rumored to have been a magician in the style of Houdini but had never drawn a comicbook let alone written one. His art style was Pop Art, and he gave the words a modern (60s) update. He was tuned in and turned on, in the words of the kids then. It hit me right between the eyes.
In my late teens I’d given up comics and moved on, but the memory of that Steranko style lingered just under the surface of my imagination. Fast forward to the late 70s. I had disposable income and started noticing comics in 7-11’s. I purchased a few and was hooked. Again. The art was different, but the stories were the same. Well not the stories themselves but the story style.
I learned later that that was because of the way all Marvel comics were written. In the early days of Marvel Stan Lee was the main writer and he had to come up with a way to produce all the comics Marvel was publishing. He would give the artist an outline/plot then the artist would draw it and give it back to Stan who would then fill in the dialogue. I’m sure that’s not exactly how it worked but that’s my understanding of the Marvel Method. Which meant they created the actual comic together with both contributors taking the story further than it would normally be taken in a more structured fashion. In the simplest terms Marvel comics are written differently than other comics. That may not make sense but believe me it worked.
The other way comics are written is a very structured outline/plot that the artist follows, which gives the artist much less input. That style also works but can be less innovative. At least IMO. And I know that opinion will be up for debate but that’s okay, I can take it.
The next part of the story happened because not only did I have that disposable income, but I discovered a magical place. A place called a Comicbook Store. Now comics could be purchased without having to fight the kid in front of you that had a Slurpee or was trying to buy cigarettes when they were underage. What a revelation the comicbook store was. My life was changed again. A change that would encompass the latter part of the 20th century right up to Y2K. And gave me a quick peek behind the curtain.
I kinda got off track there but I’ll continue this thought in the next post. My favorite Marvel movies are still to come.
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