Saturday, July 11, 2020

The 2020 Essential Marvel Age Companion, 1961-1977

Everything You Wanted To Know About The Marvel Age of Comics...But Were Afraid to Ask!

My book, here a PDF, began at the dawn of the Marvel Age. This  book  refers to the real, original comics.  As fans of the movies and comics know, Marvel had a shared Universe and heroes and villains popped up in many books. 

I include decades of original comments and quotes by the Marvel creators made just for this publication. They include: Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Tony Isabella, Jim Steranko, Rich Buckler, Dick Ayers, Joe Sinnott, Julius Schwartz, Carmine Infantino and several others. There are also many researched quotes too along with audio and video features.

Stan Lee really really liked this book! (makes me feel great.!)  In fact, he included this book when he donated his papers!

Jim Steranko wrote me to say, “Your overview of the genre is spectacular--and elevates Marvel history to areas that have not yet been defined by so many others.  Congratulations, amigo!”

By making the book a PDF I did not have to limit its size - this is over 1,400 pages! There are over 1,000 images, scanned for the original comics! At no additional charge, I can send you a PDF version made for Ipads and such. It's half the size and contains no video, but every word and every picture of the original.

If you want a bigger sample, please download this: The Essential Marvel Age Companion 1961-1977  Sample

This 1,400 page PDF contains:

The comic book listings begin with a list of ALL the comics and the artist who drew EVERY COVER along with the street date fir every comic. There is also a similar section for the Magazines!!!

An entry for every single comic and story of the Marvel Age 1961-1977
It has a full description of each story, complete credits including the cover artists; the publication AND the street date, important facts plus references to other comics when necessary. These are full descriptions, not a synopsis so the stories are NOT spoiled and surprises not revealed. Important: I abide by the Temporal Prime Directive!” That is, since these descriptions were written at the time the comics were published, I do not reveal future events, so nothing is spoiled. I also use a five-star rating system for each comic. The Magazine Section features the contents of the Marvel Magazines of the 1970s. I stress its connection the Marvel Age comics.

A Timely History of Marvel
Starting at the beginning of the 20th century, this section lists the important events that lead us up to and carries us through the Timely, Atlas and Marvel Ages. There is also a chart for each year listing what comics were published and when they were published.  It emphasizes the contributions and importance of Lee, Kirby and Ditko and in later years, Jim Steranko who took Marvel out of the cold war.  It containing a grid for each year, starting in 1939 and listing every Marvel comic published.  It describes the business of comics and behind the scenes material, as well as what was going on in the actual comics at the time. It is followed by many essays on the rise of Marvel, the creation of the M.U. and even the decline of Marvel in the mid 1970s.  After all the Marvel Age does end.

The Character Map: 
For over 1,000 heroes and villains, it lists their appearances in chronological order and displays each comics publication date.

Being There: A Memoir of the Marvel Age: 
To me, my favorite part of the book.  It looks back at the Silver Age of Comics and what it was like living through the Marvel Age.

Not Necessarily the Marvel Age:
 Marvel published many comics and magazines not associated  with their comics.  This includes a magazine on Streakers (believe it or not); Evel Knievel, Pussycat, Captain Britain, Spidey Super-Stories, MarvelMania, FOOM and many others.

There are sections on the Marvel Value Stamps, In-House Ads of Marvel Merchandi$e; a listing of all Timely/Atlas comics/ a Credit section that lists the individual credits of the creators and much more.

       If you don’t like the book, I’ll give you your money back. Really!!!!!

This book has been 60 years in the making. There are also over a thousand scans, ALL from the original comics!!!!!

  Nicholas Caputo, Michael J. Vassallo and Marcus Mueller contributed so much. Marcus Muller runs the  Unofficial Handbook of Marvel's Creators. 

This book would not be here if it wasn’t for Tony.

 None of this would have happened if it weren’t for one terrific guy:  Tony Isabella.  Tony spent a lot of time helping me with the book, giving me insight into the industry and, frankly, giving me a lot of copy.    My biggest compliment was when Tony called me “his brother from another mother!!!”  

The Synder/Ditko Effect

Robin Snyder  and Steve Ditko had a profound effect on my life!   You see,  THEY SELF PUBLISHED!!!!!!!!  Emulating them, that's what I was going to do.  My only problem is that Steve Ditko had an abundance of talent, and I had none - but I did have a computer and Adobe Creative Suite!!! 

Introducing: Jack Kirby

The first comic book I ever read was World’s Finest, #102, “The Caveman from Krypton!”  Ironically, I read it the week that George Reeves died, in June of 1959.  I really enjoyed it.  Then when I had the measles my mother brought “Challengers of the Unknown” #8 home for me to read.  I loved the story, the art and the concept of “living on borrowed time.”  I had no idea who Jack Kirby was as DC did not list credits, but it was love at first sight.  The next issues of Challengers were NOT so challenging and it would take me a couple of years to find that excitement again.  Iit would also be about four people, like the Challengers, having their lives changed after a rocket ride.

 Back then I said I enjoyed reading the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, X-Men etc. I then began to realize I enjoyed reading that it was Lee, Kirby, Ditko and Heck. 

I was lucky.  My Aunt Gussie and Uncle Leon owned a candy store in Woodside Queens, and I got to read every comic that came out!!!! And take many of them home for free!!!!!  Sadly, my mother thought comics were mostly disposable but I did my best to keep the Marvels. 

Marvels were re-readable so I kept them. Not so much for DC. DC comics seemed to be aimed at younger readers, I was growing older and DC was not growing with me. Marvel was.  Also, DC comics were full of "gimmicks" and once you read them and found out why Superman grew old, became a baby, got fat, lost his powers etc the comics were not as re-readable. The difference in writing and plotting between the two companies is discussed a great deal in the book.    As Marvel developed their continuity and started printing more and more two-parters, I wanted to keep all Marvel comics for re-reading in batches. 

To keep track of them, I started typing on index cards which comics I had, with titles and dates, summaries of the plot and full credits as listed.  Marvel was interconnected, so  every month I added to the Character Map tracing a character's appearances.  In writing the book I expand greatly on these cards but they represented a good timeline to follow for every title.

Marvel would often alter the contents of a comic and even its title.   I would keep track of the history of each title, listing the series, name changes and anything else that cropped up. 

 I typed up a second batch of index cards which I now call “the Character Map.”  It lists the  characters and all their appearances in in chronological order.

There are also features listing ALL the Marvel Stamps and where they appeared, dozens of pages of Marvel Ads and self-promotion and a complete list of the Timely Atlas Comics that preceded the Marvel Age.

 I left a lot out,  discover and be surprised. 

No history of Marvel could ever be complete without mentioning the fate of Irving Forbush and that nearly completes the book. 

The book is available for downloading. Look for the PayPal button on your RIGHT side, towards the top.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Search for The Graphic Novel

My Search for the Graphic Novel


       “I would like to see the day when a novel is done in comic book form. I mean a real Kurt Vonnegut or Arthur Miller novel with magnificent illustration, printed on expensive paper, with a hard cover. It may not happen in my lifetime but I think that eventually comics will take their place next to novels, plays and poetry as an accepted form of literature….and I think they should be.” - Stan Lee, Celebrate 1976

            The first illustrated or “picture” stories were probably done in hieroglyphics, thousands of years ago and signed by Stan Lee. The term graphic novel, as it applies to the “long form comic book,” was coined in November 1964 by Richard Kyle in Capa-alpha #2, a newsletter published by the Comic Amateur Press Alliance. As with the term film noir, graphic novel is a term applied retroactively. We then tend to look for the elements that these stories have in common, rather than describing the genre by some definitive, unifying theory. A decade after the Comics Code this was the time when comics were being considered worthwhile literature again and deserving of a new name. We often arbitrarily establish a time frame based on a popular or successful selection or acknowledge a particular event that is considered the beginning of an era. 


 Classics Illustrated, which adapted novels into comics from 1941-1969, is not a factor in the graphic novel’s development although these stories should have been considered its logical first step. And so could have He Done Her Wrong! Milt Gross’s melodrama told entirely in pictures from 1930.

Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and many others, whose work matured during the early part of Marvel Age, were deprived of the chance to participate in the industry´s next evolutionary step. The graphic novel came into its own in the mid-1970s. These new “novels” were packaged and presented as actual books and as such would no longer be orphans at the newsstands once comic book stores began to flourish. By this time, Jack Kirby was outgrowing the comic book medium and seemed to be searching for something more complex and less collaborative. Kirby and other artists were creating stories that had great beginnings, good middles, but, being in a regular comic, could not have definite endings. How wonderful it would have been to have had Jack Kirby just create, with no monthly deadline, a 150-200 page novel, with old characters or new. Steve Ditko, in his 170-page story arc starting in Strange Tales #130 (Mar 1965), also seemed to be distributing a graphic novel into his ten monthly Doctor Strange pages. 

Caption: In Nick Fury, Agent of  SHIELD #3, Steranko brings a graphic novel look to comic books. No dialogue, no yellow boxes with explanations, just story.

Jim Steranko’s story, “Dark Moon Rise, Hell Hound Killin Nick Fury,Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #3, was also a forerunner, showing the format, but not the length, of what could come. When Steranko created his first true graphic novel, Chandler, he had to find another publisher.

         Marvel was unprepared for either Steranko’s or Jack Kirby’s excursions into that area of publishing. When The Comic Reader #118 (May 1975), announced that “Jack Kirby … will be returning to work for Marvel,” it added that Kirby “was to work only on his creations, but the latest news has him drawing Captain America, a $1.50 Silver Surfer quarterly and another $1.50 quarterly based upon 2001: A Space Odyssey.” Although there were discussions of a quarterly, 80-page treasury-sized magazine, nothing came of it.

            In the mid-1970s Marvel’s creators were looking for something more than an episodic comic.  That is, comics, like TV shows had mostly been episodes in a series, each edition or each comic having a beginning, a middle, and an end. A novel does not have episodes, it has chapters that seamlessly build on previous chapters and they are not meant to exist separately as an episode can.

            This literary-type of development is apparent in Marv Wolfman’s and Gene Colan’s Tomb of Dracula, beginning in issue #8 (May 1973), and was to continue for six more years. The stories became more like chapters in a book. Kirby’s Eternals, in 1976, also seem to be approaching the format of a graphic novel.  Even the shorter series, such as Gullivar Jones that began with Roy Thomas and Gil Kane in Creatures on the Loose #16 (Mar 1972) and ended with George Alec Effinger and Grey Morrow five issue later, was more of a complete story (i.e., with a beginning and an end) than a succession of episodes as in a standard continuing series. This was developing in the subsequent Man-Wolf series, but Marvel let that series die suddenly without a conclusion.

            What is a graphic novel and what should we look for in one? We need to go back to the mid-1800s, when Rodolphe Tőpffer, a Swiss innovator of the comic strip, described the essential nature of a picture story:
             The drawings without their text, would have only a vague meaning; the text, without the drawings, would have no meaning at all. The combination of the two makes a kind of novel, all the more unique in that it is no more like a novel than it is like anything else.
 In 1837, Tőpffer published what many consider to be the first comic book, The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck (Les amours de M. Vieux Bois) which he wrote and drew. In America it was published as a newspaper supplement. 

            Tőpffer understood that the drawings and the text must be symbiotic. Some may dispute this, but it makes no difference whether the text is in balloons or at the bottom of the panel as Hal Foster did in Prince Valiant. What is important is that they are dependent on each other to tell the story.

In 1976, Bloodstar (Morning Star Press) gave us an early indication of what a graphic novel could be. The  cover described the book as “a science fiction/fantasy adventure in words and pictures.” In addition, “Bloodstar is a new, revolutionary concept—a graphic novel, which combines all the imagination and visual power of comic strip art with the richness of the traditional novel.” The book was illustrated and adapted by Richard Corben from "The Valley of the Worm," an original story by Robert E. Howard.

A graphic novel should be both graphic and a novel. The Oxford English Dictionary says that a novel is: “a fictitious prose narrative or tale of considerable length (now usually one long enough to fill one or more volumes), in which characters and actions representative of the real life of past or present times are portrayed in a plot of more or less complexity.” Therefore, a graphic novel should contain illustrations that help tell a longer, involved and complete story, standing alone. However, The Oxford English Dictionary defines the graphic novel as a “full length story published as a book in comic strip format.” It demotes “novel” to story and illustration to “comic strip” because that is the way we use this term. I do not know why some of their significance was lost when both words are combined.

            A graphic novel now often seems to be defined by how it is printed and how much it costs rather than for its artistic standard and other essential elements. Just as we draw a distinction between a TV show and a movie, we should recognize the difference between a fat, well-bound comic and a graphic novel. It seems as though every trade paperback is called a graphic novel. We must get away from that; it is the equivalent to calling a collection of short stories a “novel.” A graphic novel should be self-contained and not a “collected” edition of several short stories. However, like "The Watchmen" a graphic novel could first be published in a series of comics. Charles Dicken’s novels were originally serialized in monthly or weekly magazines such as Master Humphrey's Clock and Household Words in the mid 1800s. They were later reprinted in books, which were expensive at the time. So this procedure made his stories affordable to many readers.

            In the ongoing discussion of graphic novels, however, one publisher is rarely mentioned. Classics Illustrated was created by Albert Kanter in 1941 to present graphic adaptations of famous novels. For the next three decades, Kanter’s Gilberton Company adapted 169 books in comic book format and lasted until 1971, although no new titles were produced after 1962. Artists who contributed included Jack Abel,  Matt Baker,  Lou Cameron,  Reed Crandall, George Evans,  Graham Ingels,  Jack Kirby,  Gray Morrow, Joe Orlando,  John Severin, Joe Sinnott,  Al Williamson, and George Woodbridge. 

Although a pioneer in the field, Classics Illustrated was not the first to adapt famous novels. In the mid-1930s, DC (then called National) began to publish new material in their comic books, a medium which generally featured comic strip reprints. National’s first series was an adaptation of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, which began in New Fun Comics #1 (February 1935) and continued for more than two years, finishing in More Fun Comics #26 (November 1937). New Comics #4 (March/April 1936) began A Tale of Two Cities which finished in New Adventure Comics #25 (March/April 1938). Other novels "such as Stevenson's Treasure Island and H. Rider Haggard's She were adapted.. These comics adaptations looked very different from what they would become; they were more akin to illustrations with captions, properly not something Tőpffer had in mind back in 1843.

Many comic book historians believe that the modern graphic novel was born in 1950 with It Rhymes With Lust! by Arnold Drake, Leslie Waller and Matt Baker which was published by Archer St. John. It was described as a “picture novel.” Even in 1950, Arnold Drake saw the medium as one for adults:
As we worked with the comics form, we reasoned that for the ex-GIs who read comics while in the service and liked the graphic style of storytelling, there was room for a more developed comic book--a deliberate bridge between comic books and book- books. I… came up with the logo that would adorn the cover: a paintbrush and a pencil crossed over a book cover and the letters PN, for Picture Novels. What we planned was a series of Picture Novels that were, essentially, action, mystery, Western and romance movies ON PAPER. The trouble came when it was time to market it. There would be no space on the stands for this one odd-ball-product.


Arnold Drakes Layout

Drakes original cover design for "It Rhymes With Lust!"
      “I don’t think there is much question that “It Rhymes with Lust” was the first graphic novel. It wasn’t a stumbling, accidental creation. Les and I knew exactly what we set out to create. The fact that it was essentially a ‘B Film’ on paper, rather than the more sophisticated products that came 25 years later and called themselves ‘Graphic,’ speaks to the change in the readership over those years. The sons and daughters of the veterans who went to school on the GI Bill were a very different market than the one that Les and I dealt with back then. I have no idea what the first Picture Novel would have been had we had that broader, deeper audience.” Arnold Drake

             St. John published a second graphic novel, The Case of the Winking Buddha, but sales of both were weak and the line was discontinued.

            Comic books for people who were no longer teenagers are a good idea. In the beginning, comic books were marketed to young adults. In the 1940s that meant selling to the soldiers serving in WWII. In the 1950s, the crime and horror comics were largely aimed at adults, but because of the spill-over to younger readers, this caused the domino effect that created the Comics Code.

            Since the 1970s the term Graphic Novel has often been used to mean comic books for older people. This is because creators, publishers and readers have been trying to get away from the term “Comic Books,” a medium perceived to be for children since the Comics Code was introduced in 1955. Publishers use Graphic Novel to elevate collections of average comic book stories to make them sound like they were especially written for adults and to be one cohesive story.

Picto-Fiction from EC from Shock Illustrated 1956
In 1955, EC published Picto-Fiction which was inspired by Big Little Books. It was another example of illustrated stories, not novels, trying to reach an older audience. The 1960s gave us Eerie, Creepy and Bill Spicer’s Graphic Stories. These black & white magazine publications set the table for longer illustrated adult-targeted stories to come.

Let us not confuse the graphic novel with the format by which the novel itself was popularly known in the mid-nineteenth century. Take Charles Dickens, for example; many of his novels were first published as serials, chapter by chapter, in magazines. The same is true of Jules Verne in France. This approach to marketing novels was common at the time. If we keep this fundamental point in mind, then it is not very difficult to accept that Kirby’s pre-history of the graphic novel begins with Tales of Asgard which was introduced as a five-page back-up feature in Journey into Mystery #97 and ended four years and 49 issues later. 

Gil Kane would publish two stories that had great influence in developing graphic novel concepts: His Name is...Savage! (1968) and Blackmark (1971). 

The first, full, graphic novel that I read was Chandler: Red Tide by Jim Steranko in 1977. Like It Rhymes with Lust, it was a hardboiled detective story intended for adults. It was exciting and extremely well written, drawn and designed. It was illustrated in an “uncomic” book style and without dialogue balloons, like Prince Valiant. Like Lust, it had the look and feel of a film noir movie. Steranko’s pictures help depict the atmosphere, set the mood and compel the story.

Its look, form and subject matter have helped jump start the genre and obviously influenced the creators of Sin City and The Road to Perdition. Jim Steranko observed: “When the book appeared it was not embraced by the comic-book community because it didn’t have word balloons or captions.” In other words, it was not a comic book, it was truly a graphic novel. Red Tide´s content and style shows that it had been inspired by and evolved from It Rhymes With Lust! Steranko did not create the graphic novel, he merely perfected it.

      Byron Preiss, Chandler’s publisher: RED TIDE was an original, mass-market adult crime novel created to retail at American newsstands alongside hundreds of other paperback offerings…It supported its claim to be a graphic novel by adopting the use of continuous text and chapter breaks in traditional literary fashion, with all story pages featuring two panels, the size of which remained constant throughout the volume. Standard comic-book devices, such as captions and dialogue balloons, were not employed. The unique text-and-image format was used here for the first time. Rather than using typical comics’ storytelling, Steranko developed a narrative approach that mirrored the noir films of the 1930-40s and an illustration style that utilized both a hard- and soft-edged treatment (without an inkline or feathering) that approximated cinematic photography, a technique that took RED TIDE another step away from comics.


     Fiction Illustrated  also produced and packaged by Byron Preiss, had earlier published two books that might easily be mistaken for graphic novels. The first, Schlomo Raven by Tom Sutton, was a light-hearted detective novel. It had a style reminiscent of Will Elder’s work in Mad. A second book, Starfawn by Stephen Fabian, was a science fiction comic book for adults and was told in a traditional comic book style, complete with dialogue balloons. Both were quality projects, but were not really graphic novels. As Steranko described them, many of the long, glue-bound comics were “fat comic books.They did not tell a story as a  “fictitious prose narrative…in which characters and actions … are portrayed in a plot of more or less complexity.”

The year 1976 gave us Beyond Time and Again by George Metzger. 



Will Eisner’s A Contract With God (1978) is an enjoyable, absorbing tale that is a big step toward serious, adult graphic stories. It was written soon after the tragic death of Eisner’s own daughter. The term “Graphic Novel” appeared on the title page and on the dust jacket. It wasn’t long or detailed ; it was a graphic memoir.


Maus as it appeared in Marvel's Comix Book in 1975
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale
is a memoir by Art Spiegelman and is a great example of what a graphic novel can be. It tells the story of Spiegelman’s father who survived the Holocaust but he uses cats and mice as the central characters. In 1992, it won a Pulitzer Prize Special Award. An excerpt was reprinted by Marvel in a black and white magazine, Comix Book in 1975.

            But much of this happened too late for Jack Kirby. Kirby’s characters and stories were always too big for comics. From the beginning, his characters were bursting out of panels. Soon his stories would outgrow the single comic format, being continued not just in the next issue, but for several issues after that.


Kirby regarded his New Gods (in Amazing Heroes #100) as “the first comic book novel.” Five years later much of “Tales of Asgard” was evident in Kirby’s last Marvel opus, The Eternals, where the same deliberate care was taken in introducing, establishing and developing the various characters. Their realm was presented and their mission defined. Sadly, he then went off into a more familiar direction, with individual short stories with ambiguous plotting, making the story hard to follow. Here, we needed a conclusion but Kirby would not give us one.

The graphic novel, with its stand-alone type of story, would have created a conundrum at Marvel. DC had different worlds for each of its heroes back in the 1960s and incorporated their past by placing their older characters on different Earths, while Marvel kept everything in one universe. How stifling it must be for the creators to know that all their characters had to fit into a predetermined, commonplace world. Could Marvel have produced graphic novels, or comic series, with new characters in a separate universe? We have a hint with the Eternals which presented a very different version of the Earth’s history and introduced several new characters in its brief run. Years after they were cancelled, Roy Thomas placed them in Thor (issues #276-301) where he rewrote the creation of the Earth so that the Celestials could be included in the Marvel Universe. In Thor, Roy Thomas said, “It’s quite possible that, in a limited way, it was a mistake to let Jack Kirby create some of his alternate universes the way he did in the Eternals and elsewhere. But I think it would be a far greater mistake to let the characters languish forever on the outer fringes of the Marvel Universe.”

Lee and Kirby’s Silver Surfer (1977), a trade paperback, was a retelling of the events of Fantastic Four #48-50 but without the F.F. This project was originally intended to be a movie treatment. The later Death of Captain Marvel (1982) was praised for its storytelling and artistry. Both stories were wonderful and are proof that longer and more involved tales could attract an audience. Are the Silver Surfer and Captain Marvel stories graphic novels? The Silver Surfer story is not because it is really a reworking of three short stories and it is told in a typical, but entertaining comic book fashion. The Death of Captain Marvel is usually, and correctly, regarded as Marvel’s first graphic novel. It dealt with death in an adult manner that was removed from the typical comic book demise, albeit not without the comic book melodrama that goes hand in hand with any serious topic. It had a beginning, a middle, and a conclusion that is usually not found in comics.

            The Graphic Novel must take us to places we cannot go in a comic book. As our expectations mature we anticipate more. And given a free hand, Jack Kirby would surely have been the one to take us there. After all, he had already created the heavens and the earth. Twice!

“I took a comic book and folded it in half. Then I drew a two-page layout of a faked story, “One Man Too Many” and pasted it into that folded comic. After which I drew a cover: a nasty guy with gun in hand who’s just discovered his woman in another man’s arms. The fact that it was mounted on that folded comic demonstrated how easy the transition would be for a printer already set up to produce comics.” --Arnold Drake

Tales of Asgard: Marvel’s First Graphic Novel?

The Comics Code years may have been a dreary time for dedicated older readers. The Marvel Age of Comics served as a bridge, perhaps a Rainbow Bridge, to the graphic novel by providing longer and more complex stories with deeper characterizations. You see, in the beginning Jack Kirby created the heavens and the Earth and arguably, Marvel’s first graphic novel. He illustrated the earliest era of Asgard showing us how their warrior culture developed. Kirby showed the birth of Odin, his rise to power and the creation of life on Earth. We discovered the enemies of Asgard: the Storm Giants and Surtur the Fire Demon. We see the boyhood of Thor, his growth and maturation.   

            When he was first introduced in 1962, Thor worked the same ground as heroes before him. Lame physician Don Blake finds a stick that, when struck against the ground, turns him into Thor, an actual god, immortal and capable of vast powers. At first, Thor had familiar gimmicks and weaknesses and fought aliens, communists and crooks. His stories were earthbound and not presented on any grand scale. By late 1963, that would begin to change. The transformation started in Journey into Mystery #97 when Jack Kirby returned to the title after an absence of eight issues and gave Thor a back story with a five-page back-up feature entitled “Tales of Asgard.” Stan Lee has often said that the Tales of Asgard strip was all Kirby. This turns out to be Marvel’s precursor to the graphic novel. It starts like self-contained chapters in a book but swiftly converted into a continued story.

            Tales of Asgard gradually introduced Thor’s friends: Voltstagg, Hogun, Fandral, Heimdall, Balder and Balder’s sister, Sif. When Thor rescues Sif from Hela, Goddess of the Underworld, we learn that even immortals can die from her touch. This makes Thor vulnerable and therefore his adventures are not without risk. No longer does it seem that Doctor Blake becomes Thor, but Thor becomes Doctor Blake. In Tales of Asgard we see young Thor grow up, how Loki is adopted and how his evil is inborn. The themes of Tales of Asgard gradually infiltrate the lead story when Odin visits Earth and fights the Storm Giants in Journey into Mystery #104. Heimdall also appears in this story and his history is shown in that issue’s Tales of Asgard. Soon, all the major characters of Tales of Asgard will appear in the feature story.

            While the next few issues of the main story are earthbound, in Tales of Asgard, we learn the backgrounds of Balder, the Norn Queen and the Trolls. In issue #119 the stage is set for epic stories, both in the main feature and separately in Tales of Asgard. Here, the Warriors Three will accompany Thor on an epic odyssey. Stan’s dialogue (Thor’s “Old English” begins with this issue) and character development is important and memorable.

            This issue is also the end of the first “chapter” of Tales of Asgard’s graphic novel. Its early chapters reminded me of Tolkien’s The Hobbit, which introduced and established the characters and the environment for the author’s longer and epic Lord of the Rings trilogy. That’s what is done here. So when the big adventure begins, Kirby does not have to stop and fill in the blanks.

            After thirty-six episodes Kirby has developed Thor into the prototype of the modern super-hero. He has a family and a realm of his own. There is conflict between brother and brother and sometimes father and son. We shall see those elements follow through to the X-Men, Inhumans, New Gods and eventually the Eternals. In Journey Into Mystery #119, as Thor battles the Destroyer in the longer, fifteen-page lead story, Tales of Asgard begins a new chapter, one whose story lines, and new characters,  will be a major plot point through many issues: The Odinsword, its relationship to and the meaning of Ragnarok and the epic death of the gods. Again, these concepts are developed and are later layered into the main story.
Every so often, Tales of Asgard presented a stand alone story.  Here, Little Red Ridding Hood is retold.

            With Thor #145 (Oct 1967) after almost 50 issues and 245 pages, the voyage is over with Tales of Asgard. It was certainly graphic and, most certainly a novel as the OED would require: a narrative or tale of considerable length in which characters and actions representative of the real life of past or present times are portrayed in a plot …” The story line ends a bit abruptly, but not completely. A year later, in Thor #157-158, in one of the most brilliant stories of the Marvel Age, we learned that the character of Don Blake was always Thor; he was only briefly Don Blake! Marvel reprinted the original story from 1962, but with a foreword and a preface leading to a revelation that changed everything about the character. To teach his son humility and to have him grow wiser, Odin banished Thor to Earth to live as a mortal, with no memory of his true self, and made him handicapped, too. By making him a doctor, Blake is compelled to see suffering first-hand. Plot points from Tales of Asgard were completely woven into the stories of Thor #157-158 and all future issues. It was great fun and I was glad to be there for the whole experience.

In issue #136, Thor ends his romantic relationship with the mortal Jane Foster and begins a relationship with Sif, a goddess introduced in the Asgard series in issue #106. By this time, Kirby had established a world where Jane did not fit in. It makes even more sense now that we know that Blake did not become Thor, it was the other way around. Sif would accompany Thor on adventures in ways that Jane never could and, after visiting Asgard, never would want to. Odin became less of a prejudiced father, not wanting his son to date outside of his “kind,” but a concerned father who could foretell a bit of his son’s future. The Tales of Asgard series was a treat. It was some of Kirby’s best work and Marvel’s first graphic novel. It was treated as such when the entire series was collected in a trade paperback in 1978.

Big Thanks to Carl Thiel!