Ever since I had become interested in the Fantastic Four, I had a burning desire to read the first issue of that series. from having haunted the Humor section in my local bookstores over the years (which is where anything even vaguely related to comics wound up being shelved), I knew that this first story was reprinted in ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS, the first mainstream book collection of Marvel stories. I must have flipped through it at some point, because I had a clear memory of a panel in which Mr Fantastic stretched himself between two buildings to catch a falling Johnny Storm. But by this ate date, copies of ORIGINS proved impossible to find in my area. But I had a plan.
I knew that my local library had a copy of ORIGINS in their system–it’s possible that, finding it on the shelf at some prior date, it was the source of my memory of that Reed Richards panel . As I’ve related, my family were regular library-goers, so the next time we made the trip to the Sachem Public Library, I ventured into the adult section at the 741 address (which is where all of the books on comics were shelved), intent on seeking it out. But I was stymied–on that day at least, the library’s copy of ORIGINS was not available (and, in fact, would never show up again.) But what I did come across was SON OF ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS, the sequel volume.
It’s absurd to think about it now, but I was genuinely conflicted as to whether or not I should take out SON OF ORIGINS from the library. After all, I didn’t like Marvel comics still, apart from FANTASTIC FOUR and anything connected to those characters. Set aside the fact that taking the book out would cost me nothing at all, and if I didn’t like it, I could always simply put it down. But it was a decision that took me several minutes as I paged through the volume. Ultimately, the thing that put it over the edge was that, in the first AVENGERS story, there was a short cameo by the Fantastic Four. With that assurance of quality, I went ahead and took the plunge, and did my first deep dive into the world of the Marvel Universe.
The book was very much like my beloved SECRET ORIGINS OF THE SUPER DC HEROES in that each section began with an introduction to the characters explaining how they were conceived. The difference being that these introductions were written by Stan Lee, so they were instantly more engaging and charming than their DC equivalents. I wouldn’t necessarily look to them for accuracy–Stan loved a good story, and so he embellished his accounts mightily. But they were fun to read, and gave some genuine insight into the process of making comics, something tat I was by now doing on an amateur basis and hoped to do professionally at some point.
In truth, I found SON OF ORIGINS a bit of a mixed bag. I really liked most all of the early stories, the ones illustrated by Jack Kirby, Bill Everett and Don Heck. But the later stories (in a few instances where the characters had undergone heavy transformations along the way, such as Iron Man or Daredevil, a second more modern story was also reprinted) left me a bit cold. It was the artwork by Gene Colan, I expect. Gene is a master of light and shadow, but his approach was antithetical to the kind of bright, open super hero artwork I liked best at this point, as exemplified by the 1960s Carmine Infantino Flash stories. Three of Gene’s stories were collected in this volume, so he was definitely beloved–but it took my young self a while to warm up to his style.
Getting into Marvel this way meant that my first knowing encounter with most of these characters was in their first appearances, which was rare for a reader in the late 1970s. I liked the X-Men story that opened the book a lot. The concept was clean and simple, the characters broadly drawn, and they were very similar at that point to the Fantastic Four–to the point where the cover blurbs that similarity. (I didn’t yet know that they had been created in response to Martin Goodman’s demands for a Fantastic Four knock-off. ) In particular, I thought Cyclops was cool, and he remains my favorite X-Man to this day.
I was cooler on Iron Man. His first story was fine, but nothing really special. And I didn’t love the more modern story that followed it, partially, I expect, because it both opens in the middle of the story and ends on a cliffhanger–for that reason, I’m not sure why it was chosen. I did love Gene Colan’s version of Iron Man, though–he looked tall and powerful, and it’s still a touch point for the character for me. Iron Man fared better with me in Avengers, which also gave me insight into Thor, the Hulk and Ant-Man and the Wasp, to say nothing of Loki. It really was the Jack Kirby stories that I responded most heartily to, and this was no exception. I thought it was great.
Daredevil, too, i was lukewarm on. I enjoyed his first appearance a whole lot, but the later story reprinted, a great Stan Lee parable about tolerance and understanding, one of Stan’s personal favorite stories that he’d done, fell flat for me. I was looking for more color and adventure in my super hero fare–where were the super-villains? In both stories, Daredevil just fought regular crooks, and I think that colored my opinion of him. The opposite was true of Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD. Here, Hydra was clearly a super-villain organization, but the main character was just a guy in a suit. So I enjoyed it, but not as much as I might have a more genuine super hero yarn.
The Watcher story was interesting to me, if a bit remote. It was hard to care about a pontificating bald alien who overtly wouldn’t do anything, and the Gene Colan artwork didn’t help in any measure. But the final story redeemed things a little bit–the first issue of SILVER SURFER was drawn by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott, both of whom I had seen on FANTASTIC FOUR. Buscema in particular was operating at the peak of his powers during this period, and with Sinnott’s slick ink line giving him a polished finish, it was the best-drawn feature in the volume. Again, I had a hard time relating to the Surfer himself–he was a bit too full of himself and a bit too depressive for my tastes. But he was clearly important, I had gathered that from the clues in the assorted FF books that I had read, and so I absorbed all of the information that I could.
This volume represented a breakthrough for me. I had actually read a whole spectrum of Marvel comics and liked them–even the ones I didn’t immediately click with had something going for them. It made me question my long-held beliefs about the value of Marvel. From here, I would begin to branch out and sample the current issues of the characters that had caught my fancy within this book. So SON OF ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS is really the thing that made me a full-on Marvel fan.