Forgotten Masterpiece: MENACE #7

From time to time throughout the years, writer/editor Stan Lee would attempt to put a particular focus of quality on a given title, and try to make it stand out from the rest of the many offerings being published by Marvel, then Atlas. These efforts typically didn’t last long, and one gets the impression that they were received with indifference by the audience of comic book buyers–they didn’t sell any better or any worse than anything else Atlas was putting out, so why put forward the extra effort on them? MENACE was one of these projects, a 1953 attempt to tap into some of the quality that the popular EC Comics were then exhibiting. As I mentioned earlier, it didn’t last for very long–but it did give Lee an opportunity to make a sort of dry run at the kind of series that INCREDIBLE HULK would eventually become a decade later.

“Your Name Is Frankenstein” was not only signed by Lee but also by artist Joe Maneely. Maneely is a tragic figure in the history of comic books. He was a terrific artist, and whip-fast as well. He also got along well with Lee and was for a while his closest collaborator. He was the person to whom Lee sent John Romita to understudy when John first came into the business–a role that Romita himself would eventually take on for other younger artists. In short, Maneely was poised in the perfect position to be a central contributor to the eventual Marvel Age of Comics. But sadly, while returning home after a late night partying in the city, Maneely fell down in-between the cars of the train he was riding and was killed. It was Maneely’s sudden absence that happened to coincide with Jack Kirby’s return to Marvel, and is likely responsible for the fact that there was so much work for Kirby to take on available.

Over the years, Lee had often spoken about how his inspiration for the depiction of the Hulk came from the classic Frankenstein films, and his take-away from them that the monster wasn’t the bad guy; he was misunderstood, hounded by humanity, driven to extreme by fearful villagers. This is exactly the point of view Lee takes in this short story, where he has the Frankenstein Monster return from being buried deep within the Earth to find a human race that is still not ready to accept him.

This approach to a sympathetic monster wasn’t unique to Lee. Nevertheless, the seeds of the eventual characterization of the Hulk are readily apparent here.

These sorts of morality plays would become Lee’s stock-in-trade during the Marvel Age, as well as a well that he would return to time and again in his later and post-Marvel work.

How many Silver Surfer stories revolve around some derivation of this same end beat? Quite a few of them. Stan loved to hit the “We humans are the only monsters!” note.

3 thoughts on “Forgotten Masterpiece: MENACE #7

  1. Tragic though it was, I kinda suspect that without Maneely’s untimely death, the Marvel Age might not have happened.

    Even if Kirby had wound up working there in some capacity, it could well be that when Martin Goodman wanted a book to compete with JUSTICE LEAGUE, Stan would have tapped Maneely to do it, and they’d have revived Cap, Namor and the Torch again. Maneely was a strong illustrator and a more-than-capable storyteller, but he never seemed to have the creative spark that Kirby and Ditko did. He did what he was asked for, but didn’t seem likely to be the wellspring of new characters and concepts that Kirby and to a lesser degree Ditko were.

    But he sure drew well…!

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    1. I have been having the same thought. I love Maneely’s art, but it doesn’t seem as exciting to me as any Kirby or Ditko art from the Marvel Age. It is an uncomfortable thought.

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