5BC: Five Best Forgotten Early Marvel Story Developments

Not every idea that gets published in a comic book story is a good one. Especially over the long periods of time that most of the mainstay comic book heroes have been in existence, there have been any number of developments that turned out to be a bad instinct, and which were subsequently either overturned or ignored. The early Marvel titles were in no way immune from this phenomenon. So here are Five Best Forgotten Early Marvel Story Developments

DONALD BLAKE’S SUPER -ANDROID. JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #95 – The early Marvel books were filled with stories written by people other than Stan Lee, and many of these early writers had a difficult time understanding the particular approach that Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko were using to make their new super-characters unique. As such, many of these early stories read as though they came from other publishers’ houses. Robert Bernstein, who wrote this story (though Stan dubiously claims credit for the plot on the credits page) never quite clicked into the Marvel style, as his handful of stories all feel like DC fare of the period. In this particular issue, pages are devoted to Don Blake’s creation of a Super-Android, an artificial creature whose synthetic skin is able even to withstand a pounding from Thor’s hammer. Blake, a Doctor, had never evidenced any particular robotics skill either before or since. And this Super-Android is incidental to the plot–after three pages of demonstration, it announces that its controls have been messed with and it’s about to blow up dangerously, causing Thor to need to hurl it high into the sky before it detonates. And thereafter, it’s not really referred to ever again. The whole thing is a weird, nonsensical tangent, but one that adds Android Inventor to Donald Blake’s resume from this point forward. Artwork was provided by the late Joe Sinnott.

This example page is from STRANGE TALES #104

THE HUMAN TORCH’S SECRET IDENTITY. STRANGE TALES #101-106 – It wasn’t only the short-timer creators who sometimes got things wrong. Even the founding fathers made some bad calls along the way. Case in point: upon giving the Human Torch is own solo series in STRANGE TALES, somebody–Lee, Kirby, Larry Lieber, possibly Martin Goodman even–felt that as a headliner, the character needed to maintain a secret identity, despite the fact that his identity had been very much public in the pages of FANTASTIC FOUR. So after a caption that tells the audience that the people we’ve already been shown who know that Johnny is the Torch have both left town and been sworn to secrecy, for several stories the Torch proceeds to behave as though nobody knows or can know that he’s really Johnny Storm. This leads to some very weird scenes where the Torch is captured by an enemy such as the Wizard but needs to keep his head aflame even when he’s otherwise powerless. Supposedly, Lee was bombarded by letters from readers who simply weren’t buying this, and the conceit was abandoned in issue #106–in which the people in his hometown of Glenville reveal to Johnny that they’ve always known that he was the Torch, but they went along with his nonsense out of respect for his privacy. This certainly makes the Torch look like a fool, to say nothing of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Larry Lieber, the creators involved with making this choice.

PROFESSOR X LOVES MARVEL GIRL. X-MEN #3. – Most of the early Marvel books went through a sort of a shakedown period, where different avenues were tried and tested, and eventually the ideas that really stuck became the norm. Such was the way with the X-Men. When they were first introduced, the personalities of the five primary characters hadn’t quite formed yet. In particular, Stan Lee wrote the Beast in the first two issues almost as though he was the Thing before hitting upon the idea of making him a loquacious bookworm. In that same sort of trial-and-error way, Stan gives Professor X a single creepy thought balloon in the pages of X-MEN #3. It is already a bit of a running gag in X-MEN at this point that everybody on the team has an eye for new recruit Jean Grey, but here, the Professor’s private thoughts tell us that he too would like to get some of that action. As Kurt Busiek often points out when this moment is brought up, the age difference between Jean and the Professor isn’t meant to be as great here as it eventually settled out into being. But regardless, it’s still an off-putting moment. And it was forgotten for decades until Mark Waid made it a pivotal piece of the storyline in the 1990s where Professor X helps to give birth to the psychic menace called Onslaught. Jack Kirby provided the art and most of the plotting here, but that balloon is all Stan’s.

THE DEATH OF PROFESSOR X. X-MEN #42 – It’s perhaps difficult for readers of today to understand just how much X-MEN struggled as a series throughout the 1960s. It was almost never able to find its footing, and it was one of the first of those original titles to eventually be cancelled. Along the way, a bunch of different changes and modifications were made, including graduating the team from being schoolkid super heroes in training, giving them new costumes, and a whole lot more. The most extreme example was the decision to kill off Professor Xavier and thereafter to split the X-Men up into individual pairings of one or two characters who would then have solo adventures. Even the logo on the series was changed, to tout whatever the story of the month was about. As you can imagine, none of this quite worked, and in a few years the decision had been reversed and Professor X was restored to life (just in time for the book to be cancelled as it turned out.) But here, Roy Thomas and Don Heck pull the plug on the old telepath. The cover, in fact, blares this fact in huge letters, reducing the regular X-MEN logo to a tiny afterthought in an attempt to get somebody, anybody, to pay attention to this series on life support.Its claim that this story was nether a dream, nor a hoax, nor an imaginary tale turned out to be a little bit premature.

DAREDEVIL’S CLOTHES HOOD. DAREDEVIL #3 – An instance where trying to solve a problem caused a problem. Writer Stan Lee and artist Joe Orlando (who was doing most of the heavy lifting in terms of the plotting) realized that they didn’t have any way to explain how Daredevil could strip off his clothes, race across town as the sightless adventurer, and then emerge again as Matt Murdock. In one sequence in this issue, Daredevil masses his civilian clothes up, tying them into a ball with his belt, and then proceeds to bounce then across the rooftops with him. This was hardly a dignified look. So Lee and Orlando decided to innovate, and gave DD a hooded attachment on the back of his costume where he could store his civilian clothing when he went into action as Daredevil. This backpack contraption was, if anything, even more absurd–surely any criminal worth his salt would grab onto that backpack while grappling with DD, right? Consequently, this fashion disaster only lasted an issue until Lee and Orlando thought the better of it and had DD discard it in issue #4.

4 thoughts on “5BC: Five Best Forgotten Early Marvel Story Developments

  1. Fun article! Love those early Marvel issues and always chuckle when I see Professor X pine for Jean Grey.


  2. Chris Claremont first revived the Charles loves Jean thread in X-Men 101 as Jean was in the hospital recovering from the shuttle crash that turned her into the Phoenix.


  3. Chris Claremont first revived the Charles loves Jean thread in X-Men 101 whole Jean was in the hospital recovering from the shuttle crash that turned her into the Phoenix.


  4. Seems for the majority of superheroes, the question of what to do with their civvies while in costume is simply ignored because there is no practical good solution, so the problem just has to be swept under the rug and readers expected to not think about it too much.
    As to that early X-Men page, sheesh, the X-Boys and Xavier’s hormones are nearly raging out of control! Poor Jean must have felt positively creeped out with all that drooling going on over her. Some of those very early Marvel stories are rather painful to read, at least from a perspective of anyone who wasn’t 8 years old or so in 1963. The early Spider-Man and FF stories hold up the best from ’61 – ’64, with the quality on most other series increasing significantly from ’65 on, IMO.


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