Every year, the Smith Haven Mall near to where I lived held a week-long crafts fair. For seven days, assorted artists and craftspeople would set up little booths throughout the Mall and hock their wares. And every year, there wound up being two or three guys selling back issue comic books out of cardboard boxes. In fact, it was at one of these yearly events that I got to see my very first genuine old back issues–the cover to FLASH #153 is forever burned into my memory from when I first pulled it out of some guy’s box as a kid and marveled at its age and at its image. Inevitably, though, I seldom had any cash on hand whenever these yearly events came around, at least for most of my years growing up, and so they weren’t all that helpful to me in my quest to collect back issues. But this year, I happened to have a little bit of money to my name, and so I scoured through what this one dealer had in an attempt to find something special for my money. And this first issue of MARVEL COLLECTORS’ ITEM CLASSICS was what I can up with. I think I paid something like $3.00 for it, not an inconsiderable sum at a point where new comics cost between 35 and 50 cents each.

The appeal for me, honestly, was that it was a #1, a first issue, dating back to the 1960s before I had even been born. My particular copy had no back cover, which is why it was priced so affordably. But I didn’t really care that much. Nor was the fact that I had read the lead story, reprinted from FANTASTIC FOUR #2, already, in the Marvel Pocket Books edition.

The whole book just seemed really special to me, even though it was a reprint title and therefore not as good as a new book in the eyes of my few collector friends.

Stan Lee had caught lightning in a bottle with his new expansion into the world of super heroes, and the fact that the ranks of his readership were still growing coupled with the fact that Marvel’s shoddy distribution often made it difficult to find copies of their books meant that, even this early on into the run, there were already a lot of fans who’d missed the earliest stories featuring the Marvel heroes. After having had some success with two MARVEL TALES ANNUALs that reprinted key stories, Le and/of publisher Martin Goodman decided to add a regular giant-sized reprint title to the line, MARVEL COLLECTORS’ ITEM CLASSICS. It was an affordable way to generate some additional revenue for the company without a lot of costs–reprinted stories didn’t pay any money to their creators, so the A & E costs were virtually nil (especially as the cover was just a paste-up of the original covers to the four stories reprinted in this book.)

MARVEL COLLECTORS’ ITEM CLASSICS was apparently enough of a hit that it was swiftly increased in frequency from a quarterly to a bimonthly. In addition, MARVEL TALES was brought back as a regular reprint series as well, and the reprints of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN were migrated over to that title, replaced by Iron Man and Doctor Strange stories. In these days before collected editions and even dedicated comic book stores, this was about the only way for readers to read the issues that they had missed apart from trading with other comic book reading friends or stumbling across some older issues in a second hand store or the like. As I mentioned previously, these books didn’t really accrue in value, so even by the 1970s when I started buying them as back issues, they were incredibly affordable. provided that you only cared about reading the stories, this was a good value.

So what did this issue reprint? Well, as I said, it opened with the second Fantastic Four story produced, from FANTASTIC FOUR #2. This Stan Lee and Jack Kirby adventure introduced the alien Skrulls, who would remarkably become mainstay villains within the nascent Marvel Universe. It also illustrates how Lee and Kirby were already beginning o refine who their lead characters were: in issue #1, the Fantastic Four were unknown to the worked and Reed’s flare signal is seen by the masses as the overture to an alien invasion. But by issue #2, they’re already world-famous–so much so that the invading Skrulls impersonate them in order to turn the world against them so that they won’t be able to prevent the Skrull attack. Memorably, Reed Richards turns the tables on the Skrulls by showing them pictures cut out of issues of STRANGE TALES and JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY purportedly showing Earth’s mighty defenses. How the Skrulls could have mistaken comic book panels for photographs and why they didn’t simply check the surface of the planet before heading off are mysteries that made the Silver Age of Comics work.

After that came the third Ant-Man story, the second one with the character positioned as a super hero. Here, he battled the Communist operative Comrade X, who in a typical Simon & Kirby-style twist turns out to be a woman in disguise. It’s not a great story, but Kirby’s visuals, emphasizing the diminutive stature of the hero in weird fish-eye images, are very effective. Following that is the first installment of TALES OF ASGARD, the back-up series that ran in JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY. This more or less started as a place where Lee and Kirby could simply adapt some of the original Norse legends, but over time, it turned into a wandering serial adventure strip set entirely in the fantastical realms of Asgard. Kirby’s art is again the real selling point here, as otherwise this was more of a textbook than a proper story, detailing the creation of the universe from the point of view of the Norse Gods.

The final story came from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #3 and would have been the first full-length Spidey story produced since the strip was brought back following the demise of AMAZING FANTASY. You can see that Lee and Steve Ditko don’t quite have all of the bugs worked out of the series yet, though they’re getting there. An early sequence in this issue has Spidey clobbering a bunch of random crooks and complaining about how it’s all too easy for him with his spider-powers. This comes back to bite him when he’s forced to face Doctor Octopus, who would become one of his mainstay foes. Ock absolutely totals Spidey in their first bout, and Peter Parker is so rattled that he almost gives up the fight entirely if not for some generic words of encouragement at a school assembly given by the Human Torch. Ditko also gets to really show off his gift for staging and fight choreography here for the first time. He doesn’t have the sheer impact of Jack Kirby, but he makes up for that with mood and ambiance. You can already tell that something good is happening in this series even this early on.


  1. When I was a kid I was fascinated by the Marvel reprint books with the original covers. They really made you want to have those old comics. It wasn’t till many years later that I actually saw an early Marvel, a copy of AMAZING ADULT FANTASY #10.


  2. “Stan Lee had caught lightning in a bottle…”

    You couldn’t have said Stan & Jack or even Stan, Jack & Steve? Not really surprising though.


    1. Boy, you’re really damned if you do, damned if you don’t around here. Lee was the editor, and this is a comment about the company having caught lightning in a bottle, so mentioning Kirby or Ditko or whomever else here would have been a bit outside the remit. But feel however you want to feel.


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