Blah Blah Blog – The Ones That Did It, Part 2

An entry from my long ago Marvel blog, part of a week-long series about how I first became a Marvel reader.

The Ones That Did It pt. 2

April 28, 2007 | 1:00 AM | By Tom_Brevoort | In General

Continuing another stroll down memory lane, to look at the comics and paraphernalia that made me a Marvel reader.

The STERANKO HISTORY OF COMICS was a proposed six-volume set written and produced by famed Marvel artist Jim Steranko, of which only two volumes were ever completed. As both a fan of the material and the era and as a working industry professional, Steranko had the resources to track down and interview many of the writers and artists of the golden age firsthand. He combined their anecdotes with his own evaluations as a reader and as an artist to produce an engaging overview of the early days of comic books.

This was another volume that was ubiquitous in most bookstores for most of the 1970s. This was well before there was any kind of graphic novel or manga sections, when any and all books on comics would be racked in a ghetto area of the humor section. And I bought it, of course, for the chapters on the classic DC heroes, and like with THE GREAT COMIC BOOK HEROES, I didn’t even read the segments on the Marvel characters (nor those on newspaper comic strips and pulp fiction magazines) my first few times through.

For the most part, the STERANKO HISTORY was illustrated with reproductions of classic, vintage comic book covers. I used to stare at those covers, wondering about the stories that lay behind them, and making up my own. And the Timely/Marvel covers were no less alluring–especially since many of them, from the wartime period, were illustrated by Alex Schomburg. Schomburg was the king of World War Two propaganda-style covers, in which American super heroes (often drawn at colossal size) would be decimating hundreds of tanks and planes and fanged oriental stereotypes and bug-eyed aryan soldiers. There were no more brutally action-packed covers in the 1940s than those of the Timely/Marvel group.

So after reading the three Timely-Era stories reprinted in THE GREAT COMIC BOOK HEROES, I cracked my copy of the STERANKO HISTORY open and finally read through the sections on Captain America, the Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner and the other Timely lesser lights. And Steranko made the characters and the stories sound so interesting. I was especially enamored with the Human Torch at this point (I’d always preferred powered heroes to non-powered guys like Captain America, and Namor played almost like a villain in the one story of his that I’d read.)

From having read those older issues of MARVEL TEAM-UP with Mister Fantastic in them, I knew that the Human Torch was a member of the Fantastic Four. And I also knew that my local drug store had a massive bin full of comics, all of them Marvels, which made it of limited interest to me up till that point, priced at six for a buck. So I resolved, at the next opportunity, to pick up a copy of FANTASTIC FOUR or two, and see if I thought they were any good.

More later.

Tom B

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3 thoughts on “Blah Blah Blog – The Ones That Did It, Part 2

  1. Steranko’s cover blending the characters of multiple companies is amazing!

    These volumes are fascinating especially read in the modern day, since at the time of writing, significant history was still being made and yet to be made. Reading through, I was like “Right… I live in the future. Steranko didn’t know this or that character would be back.”

    I particularly loved the sections on the heroes that have fallen out of vogue in modern times. I had a decent enough awareness of the pulp heroes but was gobsmacked that there was a whole subgenre of air pilot comics — that the Blackhawks were just the lone men standing in a once-crowded field.

    My biggest gripe from a book design standpoint was that the cover illustrations didn’t line up with the narrative excerpts describing them. I found myself paging back and forth to find the issue Steranko was discussing. A lesser, subjective issue for me is that I wish the excerpts focusing on characters, creators, and industry were a little bit more delineated — they flow so seamlessly from one to another that someone who wants to focus on one subject or another has to hunt a bit. (Though I admit other readers may love how well-blended these subjects are).

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    1. Well, I don’t, but I was a member of two pulp fan clubs started by Steranko in the 1970s: The Shadow’s Secret Society and a Doc Savage group, The Brotherhood of Bronze. Both started out promisingly but before long the club newsletters arrived only sporadically in my mailbox, then suddenly stopped. Like the short-lived History of Comics, I’m sensing a pattern with Steranko’s efforts during the period.

      I still have my Brotherhood of Bronze membership card somewhere…

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