I wrote this post twelve years ago, on my 40th birthday.
Today I am 40.
It doesn’t feel like all that long a time, certainly no longer than it felt a week or a month ago. At the same time, it’s one of those supposed milestones that’s intended to be reflected on.
Forty years ago, the Marvel Universe looked the way it does in the column on the left, more or less. This is the entire Marvel output cover-dated April 1967 (cover dates were three months ahead in those days–the idea was that a retailer knew to take the magazine off the stands when the cover month arrived) with the exception of some reprint books (MARVEL COLLECTORS ITEM CLASSICS, FANTASY MASTERPIECES), the westerns (RAWHIDE KID) and the teen/girl books.
Amazingly enough, most of these titles and characters are under my direct watch these days, except for the X-Men. So that’s pretty remarkable. Also, a buck-twenty bought you the entirety of the Marvel line in those days. The distribution of the Marvel titles was still being handled by an outfit which was owned by DC, and so limited the number of titles Marvel could release in any given month. This would continue for another year or so, until those restrictions were lifted,and suddenly all the characters who shared time in split books like TALES OF SUSPENSE and STRANGE TALES received their own magazines.
There is no Wolverine. The Punisher is a robot owned by Galactus. There have only ever been five X-Men (six if you count the short career of the non-mutant Mimic.)
Reed and Sue have no children, and have really only been married for a short time. Hercules is about to join the Avengers as their 12th member (counting Wonder Man, as they often did in those days, as well as the Swordsman, who’d only hooked up with the team to betray them from within.) Spider-Man is in college, the Human Torch has dropped out to bum around with Wyatt Wingfoot and look for his lost girlfriend Crystal.
Peter Parker is dating Mary Jane, but has his eye on Gwen Stacy. Daredevil is pretending to be his own sighted twin brother, swingin’ Mike Murdock. Thor’s just moved on from Jane Foster into the arms of Sif. Cyclops and Marvel Girl have made eyes at each other for four years, but have not started dating yet.
There is one black super hero in existence, and he does not appear with any regularity. There is only one supporting character of color of any note: Gabriel Jones in SGT. FURY (and occasionally, S.H.I.E.L.D.).
The most exciting new artist on the Marvel scene is Jim Steranko, who’s bringing an op-art style to the Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. strip in STRANGE TALES. Stan Lee and Roy Thomas are writing virtually everything between them.
Bucky is apparently back from the dead in TALES OF SUSPENSE.
Your twelve cents gets you 20 pages of story, plus a single page Bullpen Bulletins/Stan’s Soapbox/Marvel Checklist page and a two-page letters page. Oh, and a lot of cheesy ads.
The distribution is bad, downright terrible in some areas. The chances that any particular outlet will regularly receive every issue of a given title is slim. This has become more and more important as the Marvels have moved into telling longer serialized stories in the books, super hero soap operas that continue from month to month, sometimes for years at a stretch.
Marvel was, at best, the number two comic book company in America, possibly number three. But the sales percentages were continuing to rise.
The best-selling titles in the Marvel line are the flagship book, FANTASTIC FOUR, and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, which has just started to outsell it. The worst-selling titles are SGT. FURY and X-MEN.
There has never been a line-wide crossover, and the first experiment with a crossover between titles has just recently been tried, between Iron Man in TALES OF SUSPENSE and Sub-Mariner in TALES TO ASTONISH.
The country as a whole was still in the throes of a super hero renaissance, thanks to the advent of the Batman television series being broadcast two days a week at 7:30 in prime time, although the heat from that fad is already beginning to cool off. Dozens of other publishers are rushing out attempts to jump onto the super hero bandwagon, many of them attempting to ape the Marvel style, most all of them getting it miserably, embarrassingly, painfully wrong.
The Marvel Super-Heroes cartoon is playing, using extremely limited animation–basically panels from the comics jiggled in front of the camera–to retell the earliest Marvel exploits of Cap, Namor, Thor, Iron Man and the Hulk, and begin to disseminate their names and images into the public consciousness. By the fall, the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man will join them on the small screen.
Jack Kirby will draw 41 more issues of FANTASTIC FOUR in sequence. Stan Lee will write 53, and another 53 issues of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. Roy Thomas will write 65 additional concurrent issues of AVENGERS.
In a year’s time, the Hulk and Captain America will receive their own titles, followed a month later by Iron Man, Sub-Mariner, Doctor Strange and Nick Fury. Fury’s book will be the first cancelled, Doc’s the second.
Nobody has the slightest inkling that these characters–and indeed, the medium itself–will still be around and viable four decades later.
January 17, 1967. I am born.