So. I’ve now read all the Marvel superhero comics from 1961-1964. This is a good time to sit back and reflect on how far I’ve come.
It’s also a good time to take a breath, because now that I’ve reached the end of 1964, it’s time for (tum tum ta tum!!!) the Marvelous Awards! Yes, I have once again embarked on the enormous task of trying to determine the best of the best and the worst of the worst of an entire year of Marvel Comics, and let me tell you, this is not easy. It’s time-intensive, thought-intensive, and involves a tremendous amount of effort in gathering together all the pieces. So, right now, taking a break from all that, I’ve decided this month to simply embark on a quiet moment of reflection regarding my Marvel experience thus far.
IN THE BEGINNING….
When I began this venture about four years ago, I had no idea how far it might go. I had no expectations regarding how much I might enjoy, or perhaps be bored with, the antiquated two-dimensional figures and one-dimensional stories originally presented on the flimsiest of paper for the lowest price possible.
But, I married a “comics guy,” so I wanted to read a few comics, and acquaint myself with this alternate Universe which has so thoroughly captured my dear husband’s imagination. After all, he introduced me to college football, and that’s turned out to be a blast! Could comics be just as much fun?
So I began to read the earliest stories, and almost always felt there was reason to go on to the next issue. Since I often felt I had quite a bit to say about what I was reading, it occurred to me that Russ and I might do a podcast about these early comics, a discussion between an expert and a novice. At the time, we were producing The Drawing Room podcast about the 1960’s TV soap opera Dark Shadows, so podcasting was new and fun. I don’t know what in the world made us think doing ANOTHER podcast at the same time was something two working people could possibly handle in their spare time, but we recorded one episode of a Marvel-themed podcast and immediately realized it wasn’t going to work. So we put that idea aside.
But I still felt I had so much to say about Marvel Comics, and then one day…it hit me! A blog! A blog is a hell of a lot easier to put together than a podcast. And so The Marvelous Zone came into existence.
Originally, my intent was to “read Marvel Comics,” with no end-point in sight, but I soon realized such an enterprise was madness. I did the math and decided that even if I read one comic each day, my time here on earth would be up long before I ever reached the end of Marvel Comics. Because Marvel Comics is a living, growing entity. Like the impossibility of counting every person on earth if one walked in front of you each second, you would never get to the end, because while people were waiting in line for you to count them, they would be having babies, who would grow up and have more babies, and so it goes. There is no end.
This realization was disheartening, forcing me to face my own mortality. But then I thought of this: I might be able to set parameters on my blog so that I was only reviewing “The Silver Age.” Russ informs me the Silver Age goes to about 1973 or so, which means there is an END, and though long off, one day it will actually be in sight. THIS is do-able.
THE SILVER AGE
Besides, the Silver Age has great personal appeal for me. It mostly encompasses the 1960’s, one of my very favorite decades (if you don’t believe me, check out my other blog, Whimsieville, which stars my adorably funny-looking dolls from the 1960’s). I was a kid during the 1960’s, so despite the social unrest of the era, most of my memories are pleasant. And reading Marvel Comics brings back those pleasant memories of a simpler, kinder time.
When I see Torch flying by the World’s Fair Globe, I remember the day my parents took us to the World’s Fair. I don’t remember anything else about the World’s Fair, except the globe, and the fact that it was a fine, holiday-like summer day, and I had a pretty new dress to wear, a paisley print of lime green, bright pink and orange, colors so popular and stylish during the 1960’s. That day, I felt so much a part of everything going on in the world. Thank you, Marvel, for reminding me of that.
In addition, when I read Marvel Comics, I run into Ed Sullivan and JFK, which takes me back to my childhood, and that feels good. Even when I run into “the Commies,” that also makes me feel good. Despite the fact that at the time I had no idea about politics, these Cold War Commies seem so much less menacing than the threats that face us today.
At that time, I also had no idea how distinctive the social climate, language, fashions and hairstyles really were, because to my 1960’s kid-self, that’s just the way it was. But now, looking back, it appears so excessively stylized…and nostalgic. Even the Marvel depiction of “little green men from Mars” evokes the sci-fi of the day. Which now seems so innocent and quaint. And even comfortable, in a wistful way.
THE AGE OF MARVEL MOVIES
So at this juncture, I feel compelled to ask myself several questions about my experiences so far. But before I do, one more observation: I suspect that most readers of this blog are seasoned comic book readers, having started their lifelong obsession as boys, and I of course am completely different. Not only am I distinguished from the average comic reader by my sex, but also by my age. As an adult, my initial exposure to these stories yields observations no eight-year-old boy from 1964 would ever make.
But that’s not my observation. I’m just setting the stage.
My observation is that by coming to this party fifty years late, I’ve arrived at the best possible time. This is the age of Marvel Cinema! I first became aware of the Marvel Universe when my teenage kids talked me into seeing the X-Men movie in 2000. And that was only the beginning! During the next fifteen years or so, the Marvel Universe has exploded on the screen like nothing anyone could have predicted.
Thinking of those eight year old boys from the 1960’s, I wonder if they could have ever even begun to IMAGINE that their favorite superheroes might one day appear in such fabulously beautiful, complex and realistic movies. Like the Bible verse that tells us “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love Him,” I feel certain it never occurred to those little boys that movies like this could possibly exist. But now, they do. And not only that…they just…keep…coming.
It’s a GREAT time to be alive in the Marvel Universe!
Well now, having said all that, let’s get on with my questions.
WHAT DO I LIKE MOST ABOUT MARVEL COMICS?
Previous to reading Marvel Comics, my exposure to the idea of “superheroes” was probably limited to the Christopher Reeve Superman movies of the 70’s and 80’s, and the aforementioned X-Men movies early in the 2000’s. I understood that for movies, a certain amount of drama and romance would need to be incorporated, but I never EVER expected to find so much drama and romance between the pages of a twelve cent comic book! Ten years ago, if you had asked me what comic books were about, I probably would have said “A good guy in tights fights a bad guy, and the good guy wins.” Pow, Bam! Oh yeah…that’s right…I’m just now remembering the Batman TV show of the 1960’s…but that’s exactly my point! Action and adventure, but very little in the way of deep character development. Who knew comics could be all this?
But picking up my first issue of Fantastic Four, I found a family of ordinary people, thrust into extraordinary circumstances, and from there, the depth of their characterizations and relationships continues to grow. I love the idea of the Noble Villain, like Sub-Mariner, who opposes the heroes, but as the monarch of his own kingdom, he’s trying to do what’s best for his own people. I also love the idea of a really smart, generally good guy like Reed Richards, who can sometimes be sort of a jackass. Not to mention a complete romantic doofus.
It’s not all black and white. Between these newsprint pages we find so many shades of gray. Thor struggles with his love for a mortal woman. Matt Murdock finagles a way to use his powers and still honor the promise he made to his dead father. Pym decides being Ant-Man is no longer good enough, now he must be GIANT-Man as well. You could psychoanalyze these guys for hours! And I do.
WHAT DO I LIKE LEAST ABOUT MARVEL COMICS?
I’ve had the opportunity to glance at some recent Marvel Comics, and honestly, I’m blown away by the art. It appears that nowadays, the art is the star, and word balloons take a back seat. Somehow, Marvel has learned to let the pictures tell the story. I’m looking forward to moving into these more streamlined stories, that don’t take half of forever to read, because there’s just so…many… freaking…words!
Now, having said this, I know what’s going on, at least to some extent. When the Silver Age of Marvel Comics was in its infancy, the audience was growing month by month. I’ve waded through many re-tellings of origin stories, to say nothing of how Daredevil keeps chattering about his stupendous abilities. It gets a bit tiresome, but at the same time, I understand the need for repetition, so new folks can catch up. However, when you have panels like this one, where the talky-talky completely obliterates a character’s face, I think it’s time for someone in the Marvel bullpen to step back and rethink the process.
But you know what? If that’s the worst I can come up with, I’m probably doing pretty good.
WHAT DO I MOST LOOK FORWARD TO?
What do I look forward to? Are you kidding? So much, so very much! Let me mention just a few thoughts.
First, because of my exposure to the movies, I’m aware of so many great characters that haven’t even been hinted at, by the end of 1964! Can’t wait to meet them, especially some of the X-Men, like Storm and Wolverine. Of course, one of my favorite places in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Planet Television. I’ve been enjoying SHIELD for over three years now, but even that doesn’t hold a candle to when they take a break and let Peggy Carter go at it. Oh, wait! How could I have forgotten Guardians of the Galaxy?
When I finally meet all these characters in the comics, I wonder if they’ll live up to my expectations…
As for villains, you have to admit, in these first years of the Silver Age, many of them aren’t very impressive. Not only do we have your garden variety thugs and gangsters, but there’s also the Tinkerer, and Paste Pot Pete. Some preliminary efforts have already been made to rehabilitate PPP’s image, but honestly…how much improvement can we expect from a guy whose motto is “Paste is the supreme weapon”?
I know the day is coming when I’ll meet Ultron, and I hope Magneto and his gang of evil mutants will stop bickering like a dysfunctional family and get down to some serious EVIL. I look forward to bigger, better, truly villainous villains. I look forward to the day when comic book Loki impresses and terrifies me as much as Tom Hiddleston’s Loki.
As previously mentioned, I’m also looking forward to more sophisticated artwork, but also more sophisticated storytelling. Not that long ago in my Silver Age reading, I began to run into story lines that stretch across two issues. I know eventually stories will stretch across several issues, so that reading Marvel Comics will be more like a series of novellas, rather than short stories. (And I do prefer novels to short stories.)
And maybe…just maybe, if I’m lucky… some of those stories will advance the stagnant romances that so far spin around in huge circles of secrecy and misunderstandings. Don’t spoil me, but I can’t wait to see if Reed and Sue, Tony and Pepper, Matt and Karen, Hank and Janet, and Donald and Jane can ever get past these high school games that people play and move into more serious adult relationships. And would it be too much for the romantic in me to hope for the chiming of wedding bells?
In the old days, movies always ended with a wedding; now they often begin with an unhappily married couple. I don’t want any of these characters to be unhappy, but I would like to see their lives move along, as if they are real people. Even though, of course, they are not real people. And they don’t have normal lives. But still. I want to see at least some of them eventually get married. (Again, don’t spoil me!!)
You’ll notice there was no mention of Peter Parker in my long list of romantic couples. And why not? Because I have not yet met Mary Jane Watson! Aunt May keeps hinting and teasing that she’s about to appear, but so far…no Mary Jane. And I know Peter will also have a romance with Gwen Stacy, but I don’t think I can get anywhere near Gwen Stacy until I first at least MEET Mary Jane.
So, yeah. I’m looking forward to meeting Mary Jane Watson.
FINALLY, WHAT HAS SURPRISED ME MOST ABOUT MARVEL COMICS?
The single thing that has surprised me most about reading Marvel Comics is that I enjoy them as much as I do. I knew from the beginning these were stories originally written for little boys, so there was no particular reason to anticipate I would find anything significantly compelling. It seemed extremely likely I was simply not the audience for this particular form of entertainment. After all, I’ve never been able to see the attraction of video games or Shakespeare, though there are plenty of fans for each in this diverse world of ours. And that’s fine. Different strokes for different folks.
At first I thought I would read a few stories to please Russ, show him that I gave Marvel a chance, then move on. But Marvel would not let me simply “move on.” Very quickly, over the course of a dozen or so stories, I became interested, and invested.
Have you ever flipped through the TV channels and run into one of those murder mysteries like Dateline or Forensic Files? If you linger even a moment, somehow you end up watching the whole damn thing. Something about it grabs you and won’t let go.
In the case of murder mysteries, it’s a morbid sense of “whodunit?” But with Marvel comics, I come back full circle to what I said at the beginning: The characters, the relationships, the drama, the romance. And most of all, the FUN.
If these stories weren’t fun, I wouldn’t read them. If they weren’t fun, I wouldn’t do this blog. But they are, and I do.
And now what I do, is get back to preparing (tum tum ta tum!!!) the Second Annual Marvelous Awards!