A long, long time ago, in a childhood far, far away, it was not at all common to see magazine articles seriously discussing comic books. The Batman TV show got a great deal of attention, but little of that was about the actual comics.
Here are three articles, the first from Creem Magazine, April 1973, the People Magazine January 1979, and then a TV Guide from Sept 2, 1978
After the images of the Creem and People's articles. to make it easier to read, I typeset the entire article. In the Creem they made a few mistakes and I corrected some spelling, and put in parentheses some out of place sentences.
The Marvel Age of Comics has its beginnings with Timely Publications whose Publisher, Martin Goodman, brought out the first Timely comic magazine, Marvel Comics, in 1939. This first issue introduced two of the great heroes of all time, The Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner. The Human Torch was a lousy android, but his tradition lives on in Johnny Storm, member of Marvel's Fantastic-Four, who came by his powers legitimately, in a freak rocket accident. That very same Sub-Mariner is still with us, drawn by his creator, Bill Everett.
In 1940, Timely summoned forth Captain America to do battle with the Hun. The Captain was the work of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby; Simon had assisted in the construction of Superman, and Kirby has left his mark on just about every stage of modern comic activity.
Captain America and his sidekick Bucky battled the Nazis with ferocity and cunning all through the war, but when peace came, they were left a little out to lunch. Rolling with the punches, as was the rest of post-war America, Timely changed its name to Atlas and Goodman hired a writer and editor named Stan Lee.
Many of Lee's science fiction epics for the middle and late fifties show the humanistic traits he was later to apply to the Marvel Age heroes. Artists such as Don Heck and Steve Ditko illustrated Lee's morality plays about cruel intergalactic governors and their confrontations with egalitarian space rebels. The style and tone was there; the wisecracking hero, the sledge-hammer use of irony, but they had not yet found the perfect characters.
Then, in 1961, Stan Lee brought out two titles using Jack Kirby's art: Amazing Adventures and The Fantastic Four. The Marvel Age was born in a spectacular space accident that left its four passengers, John and Sue Storm, Reed Richards, and Ben Grimm, mutated into super-heroes. Lee's forte has always been establishing strong characters through dialogue. On the comic page, no line can seem too outrageous or clichéd. Somehow, the very medium precludes dramatic excess and a sentence that would seem offensively melodramatic on stage is reduced through the magic of comic art to a forceful, natural statement on the comic book page. So Stan Lee's hopelessly dated dialogue and plot ideas meshed with the Fantastic Four and the formula was finalized.
The thing that Marvel has always had going for it, and the others have not, is this outrageousness of character. Most comic book heroes, until very recently, were pretty bland, one-dimensional people. Along came Ben "The Thing" Grimm bellowing, "It's clobberin' time!" followed by the solicitous, square, stern father figure Reed "Mr. Fantastic" Richards with a word of caution, and both followed by the hot headed Johnny "Torch" Storm . . . who could resist?
Marvel has recently moved into new offices on Madison Avenue. The floor they occupy was not quite finished when I visited, and Marvel had the only office which looked habitable. The waiting room was frigid modern, pastel plush furniture and not a hint of the I comic book source. ,The home ofl Spiderman, Thor and the Fantastic Four might just as well have been the reception room of an accounting firm. But once you pass beyond the secretary's pillbox and into the offices and halls beyond, the walls come alive with the icons of the new age. There are comics everywhere; pasted to the walls and on the bookshelves. Every room has a commercial magazine stand stuffed with the latest from Marvel, National, Gold Key, Archie and even . . . yech! . . . Charlton. They read undergrounds, too.
In a couple of large drafting rooms, the staff artists, Herb Trimpe (The Hulk), Marie Severin (King Kull), and John Romita (Spiderman) labor away. The rest of Marvel's considerable production is handled free-lance. Great artists such as Gene Colan (Daredevil), contributors for years, work on a freelance basis.
(with fine artists taken off important strips so they can fill in elsewhere on a?)
Marvel is in the business of producing 46 titles a month, come blackout or postal breakdown. Mighty Marvel has much in common with the Ford Motors plant for, in Stan Lee's own words, "We are a production line. We are committed to so many titles . . . I think we have a total of 69 now . . . and we have to get those out. Now if someone gets sick, suppose Herb Trimpe gets sick and can't do the Hulk. Then we have to pull someone off something else. We take Bill Everett off Sub-Mariner and have him do Hulk, but then we have to get someone to do Sub-Mariner which means we have to pull him off something else. It's like the domino theory. If someone falls behind, we fall behind all over."
The theory of production line does not sit well with theories of art. The clashes Marvel feels have been many, better-selling, but esthetically less successful character. A recent, glaring example of the production line drawbacks has been in the shoddy coloring and inking of certain issues of Conan the Barbarian, Marvel's artistic star of late.
Barry Smith's illustrations for Conan have been without peer and Dan Adkins' inking has been mostly up to the challenge; but in issue No.19, the latter half of the comic wasn't inked at all because of "truly fearsome" deadline problems. Without Adkins' crisp, sensitive inking, Smith's pencils are almost indiscernible, resulting in a mushy, ink-splotch scenario. Adkins was needed elsewhere and Conan had to suffer.
Conan, the most detailed comic Marvel (or anyone) has ever produced, winner of SHAZAM and ACBA awards, is indicative of all that is good in contemporary straight comics and much that is bad. In Marvel Editor Roy Thomas, it has a writer who understands and appreciates Robert E. Howard's prose. Thomas' exquisite adaptations and consistently imaginative characterizations represent intelligent literary communication through comics. And 23-year old Smith, easily the most immaculate craftsman presently working for Marvel, is also devoted to the character and has helped to plot most of the episodes. Marvel policy is that the artist decides how best to lay out the story.
When all the penciling is done, the writer supplies the dialogue which is inked in by the letterer. Then the rest of the art is inked in. The complicated lay-outs can prove mighty discouraging to uninitiated readers, so editors tend to discourage tricky lay-out artists. And a remarkable title like Neal Adams' Dead-man withers and dies for lack of sales.
Marvel took many chances with Conan, primarily in the way the material was adopted. Gone was the Wap! Pow! of the bread and butter comics stuff. Enter Thomas and Smith. When the story could progress without words, it was allowed to do so in the wordless, cinematic sequences which Smith has become famous for.
But then trouble started. Apparently, Lee wanted something easier to follow than Howard adaptations and he rang in a series of plots by modern fantasy writers, such as Michael Moorcock and John Jakes. This did nOt sit well with Smith. He wanted more money and he wanted his original artwork back —that's right, Marvel keeps all original artwork except for unique cases such as Jim Steranko, who is responsible for all aspects of his art, from pencilling to inking and coloring. The upshot of all this is that Conan No.24 might very well be the last complete Smith adventure.
But think about the Marvel Warehouse of Original Art! Since there is some disagreement as to whom finished art truly belongs (the penciller merely pencils, the inker merely inks, the letterer letters), Marvel prudently settles the question by appropriating all. imagine the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola, discovered by Scrooge McDuck in 1952, paved in gold and dripping with jewels! Imagine the ancient Egyptian super-civilization, Karnopolis, discovered by the X-Men, in 1969!
Stan Lee, wearing a turtle neck and a luxuriant, salty moustache, leans back on the sofa in his office and spreads his hands. "Look at it this way, that original art is much like diamonds and the diamond market. Do you know how many diamonds the big mines have salted away down in South Africa? If they were to release all those diamonds at once, their value would be virtually nothing. It's the same with the original art. This way if a fan gets some piece of original art, he will look upon it as being much more valuable, much more desirable, then if the art were everywhere. I think that the art should be hard to get; it should be something of an adventure."
The present comic book scene is largely the work of this Stan Lee, Publisher and former Editor of Marvel. It was Lee who personalized the superhero with his neurotic Spiderman, alias Peter Parker, an adolescent with more problems than a T.B. ward. While National slipped into the doldrums, the fascinating personalities at Marvel ventured into the wilds of New York looking for trouble and always finding it. One of Superman's greatest powers, until quite recently, was his astounding ability to bore readers to death. He not only had no sense of humor, but was totally lacking of any semblance of what might be called political consciousness. He didn't even know about pollution and ecology.
Meanwhile, Marvel's orange-skinned Thing and his short-tempered partner the Torch were enmeshed in a serio‑comic battle that perpetually threatened to rend the Fantastic Four asunder. Peter Parker was stuck for rent. It took time for the ol' Caped Crusader to catch on, but he eventually did, and National went to town with a string of committed, liberal super-heroes whose sense of collective guilt would make a landlord weep. Their best was Green Lantern and his emerald partner, Green Arrow. Together, the intrepid, slightly inept duo confronted slumlords, pollution, and over-population.
"They're much more into relevancy than we are," says Lee. "We're not selling relevancy, we're selling fairy tales for adults. If a little relevance happens to fit into the story, or if we feel we have something to say that will contribute to the story, that's fine. But National puts it up front every story. It's like they're saying, 'Hey, look how relevant we are!' "
Smilin' Stan is about six foot three, with pleasant, tired eyes, wavy grey/ brown hair, and that expressive moustache which is all that remains of the famous Stan Lee beard. Stan's own stories have dragged Thor on an intergalactic odyssey ending in a struggle with Ego, the Living Planet. He has stacked Reed Richards up against the nefarious Doc Doom, a fiend so evil that he once blew up an entire village of "peasants" to test a new bomb. Along with Jack Kirby, Stan created an increasingly heavy string of villains that threatened to tear the comic book world apart. Lee had already invented Galactus, an immense, soulless creature who roamed the cosmos in search of supper. Galactus would tuck in his bib and dispassionately proclaim, "I eat to live. I am not good, I am not bad. I eat because I must." Then he would eat a world. Galactus was ever on the verge of scarfing down Earth but somehow Thor or the Silver Surfer always managed to dissuade him.
Like with the Beatles, when Kirby and Lee parted company both of them were left artistically the poorer. Lee's recent scripts for Spiderman tend to be corny and preaching, and Kirby's one-man show at National looks forced and lacks details.
But then, Stan Lee is corny. He loves to think up practical jokes for Marvel's current Monster Madness, a collection of standard horror movie stills with corny captions. He's a real Nice Guy, the kind of fella who ought to lead a Boy Scout troop. Swear words do not issue from his mouth and it is somehow reassuring to hear him add a resounding "By Heck!" to the conversation. He acts like Sgt. Fury of the Howling Commandos (protagonist of Marvel's "war comic for people who hate war").
On the wall of Stan's office is a print by Jim Steranko, one of Marvel's premier artists and author of the brilliant History of Comics. It's a silk screen photo-process depicting Smilin' Stan with a thought balloon over his head enclosing the entire pantheon of Marvel heroes and villains. When Stan Lee talks, and speaks of Marvel's many accomplishments, he doesn't have to say, "And then I did this . ." because when he gives credit to Marvel, he gives credit to himself.
"Now, as Publisher, I find that I have the opportunity to do all the things I've wanted to do for so long. I like to think we did something new with Conan and King Kull. We have several projects planned, some aren't even comics. New ideas . . . new types of publishing . . . new types of books . . . I think you're going to find in the next year or so that Marvel is going to come out with a lot of things that will take people by surprise. Some will be good, some may even be disappointing, although I hope not . . ."
Exit Sgt. Fury, enter J. Jonah Jameson, Publisher and Editor of the Daily Bugle in Spiderman. Jameson is the arrogant, but basically right- principled publisher for whom Peter "Spidey" Parker works as a free-lance photographer. J. Jonah bears many Lee trademarks: he's gruff, he's tough, he's a real cream-puff. He shoots from the hip and misses a lot.
Stan goes on: "We have no intention of becoming very sexy or becoming very violent. We're not into that, what we hope . ."
Whoops, excuse me Stan, but there does seem to be an awful lot of, uh, violence in certain of your titles, what with the bodies being tossed around, the excessive gunplay, and, in the instance of Conan, scarlet trickles of blood . . .
"I don't even consider what we show violence. I know some people will consider them violent, but other people will say, 'My God, you're not going to call a Tom and Jerry cartoon violent,' but it is violent . . . To me, violence is a threat of danger that scares people, or that people relate to and it affects them. I don't consider violence in the average animated cartoon violent; I consider it silly, fantastic action. I think when a reader reads about Thor fighting Ego or something, I don't think the reader considers that violent. You get a story about somebody being mugged in the street and that's violence. I mean somebody is really being killed! It's a flesh and blood person . . . that's the real tragedy of the world today."
One piece of quasi-violence that people could relate to was a fairly recent edition of Spiderman that involved Spidey's friend and roommate Harry Osborn being hooked on drugs. The drugs were pills, vaguely defined. They could have been hallucinogens, downs, or speed, but, whichever, they put poor Harry in drug heaven. The Comics Code Authority refused to bestow the Good Housekeeping seal of approval on the cover of the magazine because its subject matter violated section B of the code. I asked Stan about this particular Spiderman story, a tale that was destined to upset the staid code and contribute greatly towards its liberalization.
"You know, I was against the use of drugs in that story. I wasn't at all sure that this was the proper way to treat the story, but Gerry (Conway) managed to convince me that it should be included. It was just a sub-plot anyway."
Then National ventured forth with their Green Lantern/Green Arrow smack epic, which portrayed Arrow's ward Speedy as a junkie and even showed a few needles and an overdose death in psychedelic black. It is doubtful as to whether National could have gotten away with it if it weren't for Marvel's precedent-breaking Spider-man.
So where does Marvel go from here? That's just what Marvel is wondering. They have grown into a giant, but their problems have grown with them. The entire future of the comic magazine is in doubt. Plainly, the Comics Code Authority has outlived its usefulness and comic readers have outlived the code. The publishing world in general is hardly stable, as folded operations from Life to Tower Comics attest, but the future of comics is particularly foggy. Within the past five years, the price of the comic magazine has fluctuated from 15 cents to 20 to 25 and to 20 again and rumors in the wind say that the Feds are forcing them back down to 15.
One thing is certain: there has been a tremendous flowering of above-ground comic talent in recent years, and it has been brought about largely through the efforts of Marvel. Not since the halcyon days of EC Comics have so many talented illustrators thrown themselves into the graphic story-telling arts. Since the early sixties, Marvel has had at least one spectacular showcase, from Steve Ditko's Spiderman to Jim Steranko's Nick Fury to Barry Smith's Conan.
But then again, the art often seems secondary to the commercial aspects, with those vulgar ads breaking up the story more and more frequently every year; the stories themselves have become shorter, and numerous Cassandras are predicting the death of comics. It would be a shame to lose them now that they're just beginning to realize their unbounded potential.
Heroes and villains
He's not just your average radiation-infected geek or castaway alien, for Peter Parker, Spidey's alter ego, is closer to the heart of the average Marvel fan than any other hero going. Peter got his start some years back when, as a scientifically talented teen, he was bitten by a spider that had gotten a dose of radiation, and that's when the trouble started ...
The real appeal here is probably not so much Spider-Man as Peter himself, and the impossible situations he gets into. After some years as a social nonentity and tormented super-hero (as a wall-crawler, he can scurry along the sides of tall buildings until alerted by his "spider-sense" that danger is near, at which point he checks his cartridges of sticky, super-powerful "web-fluid"), Peter moved out of his frail old aunt's home and into an apartment. He got a motorcycle — albeit a small one —continued his success as a science whiz in college, and even got himself an old lady. Gwen is the dazzling lady in question and she knows nothing of Peter's crypto-arachnoid activities, but bears with his habit of disappearing into the woodwork (to change into costume, natch) whenever trouble looms. Pete's most convenient excuse is that he was off taking hot action shots for J. Jonah Jameson, the tyrannical, Spider-Man hating newspaper publisher who also happens to be Peter's boss.
For Peter Parker, all this inevitably leads to anxiety and self-doubt. Lately, it's gotten so bad that the celebrated Spidey has gotten an ulcer, which is in constant danger of flaring up while he battles Doc Ock, the Kingpin, Kraven, Puppet-Master, or his own fear of the existential void.
Like other Marvel heroes, Petey has grown up some, gotten older and wiser, but still moves in the same ambiance as the perpetual teenager with the perpetual face full of zits, facing the perpetual classroom full of snide punks who seem to have limitless cool. Sample: After drinking a weird potion he concocts to cure him of his socially untenable spider-powers, Peter discovers that he has sprouted four more arms and become the complete spider. The .telephone rings. The caller is luscious Gwen:
S-M: Huh? Now who the devil's that? Whoa, Mr. P ... that way lies the ever-lovin' paranoid ward. After all, nobody but you knows about your "delicate condition."
Gwen: Peter? I was hoping I'd corner you at home. Now, don't say a word . . . Just settle back and listen. This is your lucky night, man o' mine. In honor of Betty Friedan's birthday, I've decided to play liberated woman and treat you to the r-rated flick of your choice. I should warn you, I've already seen Love Story . . . but I've got enough Kleenex left to sit through it again. Or we could take in "I Am Curious (Yellow)." You could cover my eyes during the spicy parts.
S-M: “Gwendy I ...”
What else could the poor boy say? Six arms or not, there's lots here for everybody to identify with.
The Fantastic Four
One of the most durable super-hero teams of the Marvel lineup, the Fantastic Four always manage to combine their talents to escape from the tightest clutches and schemes of a variety of super-villains. None of the FF tries to hide their identity, and they run an up-front research lab on the top floor of the Baxter Building in New York. Their leader is Reed Richards, Mr. Fantastic, who has the uncanny ability to stretch any part of his body a considerable distance. A handy talent when it comes to tying up baddies without rope, turning into a parachute when thrown from incredible heights and catching high flies. Mr. Fantastic is also the husband of the lone woman in the group, Sue. Besides having the power to make herself invisible, Mrs. Richards has a certain telekinetic weirdness that lets her move objects without touching them and she can set up powerful mental force fields to resist the aggressions of ungentlemanly heavies. Sue's brother, Johnny, is the junior member of the group. When he cries "Flame On!", his body is covered with a sheet of flame which he can throw as fireballs, propel himself through the air, or in its most devastating form, use to produce a super-nova. Ben Grimm is the fourth member of the group and, though he be blessed with the strength of at least a hundred men, his skin looks like it is made from jagged chunks of orange concrete.
Ben, or "the ever-lovin' blue-eyed Thing," as he is affectionately known, helps make the FF what may be the best team of super-heroes Marvel has to offer. He's gruff, impetuous, ugly, and always ready for a fight; and if not a fight, at least a spirited squabble with Johnny. Their "squabbles" sometimes result in the near-destruction of the Baxter Building as Reed's totally impossible inventions get utterly smashed and the landlord runs up to threaten eviction only to be faced down by the untouchable Thing. The Thing, you can be sure, has little patience with threats.
In the world of Marvel, villains, almost by definition, are uninteresting people. One may be an ex-gangster disfigured by Gamma radiation but also given strange powers by it. Added to his normal criminal tendencies, one might find a hefty dose of Gamma-induced megalomania and presto! we have a potential universal tyrant for some hero to thwart.
The evil plan might be the construction of hydraulic lifts under every city of the world. Sink every city into the earth for a million mindless sub-terraneans to control, or suspend it in the clouds at the mercy of bird-men. Either way, the baddy can proclaim himself world ruler and get down to the heavy work of rapine and pillage. The villain's only singular quality is his plan, and no matter how many times he gets his ass kicked, he'll somehow escape and be back with another plan. The villain is the same single-minded paranoid schiz when he returns, but this time he wants to drain all the oceans in the world and send them flying off into outer space.
Doctor Doom is a villain who escapes the shallowness of many of his cohorts in evil. Doom, from behind his thick body armor, rules the mysterious European country of Latveria. There, he plots and plans, governs his army, develops dangerous weapons and prepares for world domination. Doom is most often the nemesis of the Fantastic Four and his powers are sometimes their equal, but his vanity or submerged sense of humanity always results in his speedy retreat to Latveria.
Doom is a large villain. He seldom gets stalled by petty animosities and avoids mayhem if it doesn't work toward his ultimate goal. He also is not immune to self-doubt, but rest assured, there's no doubt as to whose side he's on.
Captain America is a living anachronism, as he continually reminds himself. Cap became a semi-superman back during World War II when American scientists developed a way of producing men who would be perfect soldiers. Cap, however, was the only graduate before the whole thing went bust.
Sometime near the end of the war, Cap's right hand man, Bucky, got totaled in close fighting with the sneering Nazis, when he rode one of Der Fuehrer's rockets to destruction. Not long after, Cap somehow was frozen in an iceberg, and it was only a few years ago that he was discovered and thawed out. Needless to say, he had to cope with a dose of culture shock. He's still coping, and still tormented by guilt about his faithful sidekick's fiery demise.
Captain America, with his indestructible red, white and blue shield and matching costume (with little white wings above the ears) is indeed from another era; one that smacks of militarism and white America right or wrong, even more than our own age. Trusty Marvel, however, has seen to this and made Cap something of a liberal. His ideals are equality and individualism, and the idea of cultural diversity seems to sit well with him. And just to prove it, he pals around with a black social worker from Harlem, who has his own secret identity as the Falcon.
Captain America may be something of a relic and super-hero cum liberal to boot, but he's also a flashy, indispensable aid when it comes to battling the forces of immoderation.
Captain America is not without favorite villains of his own. The ghastly, scarlet head of the Red Skull is another holdover from the 40's who seems to have survived the ravages of time as well as Cap himself. There was once a suggestion that the Red Skull, who got his start as a dedicated, remorseless Nazi, had his identity pirated by a Commie who had the same ideals of world domination as the original Red Skull. Whether this was just a flight of Cold War paranoia or whether Red is just another high technology kraut has yet to be determined.
Hydra is another nefarious organization to be reckoned with. Hydra has a stupendous technology of its own and Cap is not above teaming with Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. to deal with the threat of the Head Hydra's numerous minions.
The Hulk definitely veers toward the anti-hero side of the Marvel lineup. Originally a rather spindly looking physicist named Bruce Banner, Hulk is often described as "the green-skinned gargoyle." Mr. Banner, after suffering a dose of radiation in his lab, turned into a dim-witted, tousle-headed green monster who wants nothing more than to be left alone and perhaps enjoy himself with a friend or two.
It seems, however, that the Army, under the command of General "Thunderbolt" Ross is not too happy having a creature as powerful as the Hulk roaming around. Consequently, "Project Greenskin" is always trying to nail the poor guy down. Faced with all this antagonism, Hulk, who happens to, be the most powerful creature on earth, is not above a little aggression of his own. And, as Hulk says, nothing can hurt him because the madder they make him, the stronger he gets. He even accommodates . contradictions of the sort that let us see him cast adrift in space without an air supply, and then see him later, completely, if temporarily, subdued by a new tranquilizing gas' that the CBW guys have cooked up.
Hulk is a paradoxical creature with some of the qualities of Frankenstein's monster. He exists in a basically hostile environment, lacks the brains to deal with it, and is given to childish excess. When he is particularly relaxed, the Hulk turns back into Bruce Banner, who puts his head in his hands and wonders just what in hell is going on. The love interest enters here, for Banner is enamored of General Ross's fair daughter and it seems that whenever he gets it together to do something about improving his love life, poof! he turns back into the Hulk and heads out to the desert for some peace and quiet.
The venerable Dr. Strange of the East Village moves out of the mainstream of Marvel heroes and villains. Strange is "master of the mystic arts" and is unfailingly guided toward the right incantation or insight of the mysterious amulet he wears around his neck — the "all-seeing eye of Agamotto."
Dr. Strange moves in odd circles. His battles against evil are sometimes carried out in uncharted dimensions that give full moon signals his lycanthropic transformation, and inbetween full moons he searches out mystic tomes for the cure to his toothy problem. Naturally, he encounters a full share of villains on the way.
The other mags, like Crypt of Shadows, are basically mortality plays. The man-hating vamp is lured by her latest love interest to a witch's feast, whereupon the man is revealed as Satan and the woman becomes a tortured, immortal witch forever. The blind man, constantly made fun of by the kids in the park, saves the earth from an alien horror who frightens all the earthlings into submission with his awesome visage. The blind man, of course, only has to act like he can see and the frustrated alien leaves the earth in fear of human powers of resistance. Like most titles in Marvel world, the wicked are crushed or damned, and the meek vindicated.
From Beyond The Grave:
Spiderman Made Flesh
Spiderman made his first grope toward appearance in flesh with the issuance of a record album. From Beyond the Grave, the first in a projected series of "Rockomics" (put out by Buddah Records and Marvel) is a perfect introduction to both Marvel and the Web-slinger for the semi-, post- and illiterate few who don't know already. It chronicles Spidey's acquisition of Spidey power (from an insect — er, arachnid bite) the death of his uncle (more precisely, Peter Parker's uncle) and his (Spiderman/Peter Parker, it doesn't make any difference because they're the same by that time) alienation from both overground society and the criminal underbelly.
It's not quite what Jan & Dean had in mind with their ingenious Batman album, since it's mostly played straight (well, almost straight) but From Beyond the Grave is a whole lot like the Batman TV show. (Which we loved, even if you didn't.) The music is updated, but still a little on the cornball side of heavy; the dialogue is straight comic-book stuff and you can almost see the "Screech" and "Thwip!" bursts (full color) on the screen. It's great, like the return of a radio serial. Airplay being the reason, we suppose, that the album is divided into 5 cuts per side. A perfect ten day serial.
Future issuances from Buddah/Marvel Rockomics could be great. Who wouldn't be thrilled to hear the Hulk shout "IT'S CLOBBERIN' TIME!" from a pair of Voice of Theaters at full volume? And there are all kinds of interesting possibilities for Marvel music too. How about Pink Floyd scoring Doctor Strange? Or the Beatles singing on an album by the Fantastic Four? Or even, the remotest of fantasies being fully permissible in the Rockomics world, the Beach Boys and Black Sabbath having a battle of the bands while The Silver Surfer and Doc Doom fight it out in outer space?
People Magazine, 1979
At two minutes past midnight, the plot thickens. In his dark bedroom, Stan Lee —publisher and creative director of Marvel Comics—clicks on the miniature tape recorder beneath his pillow. Dictating in mumbled phrases, he spins a web of adventures. He has hit on the idea of having "the Incredible Hulk meet Spider-Man in the greatest power trip in the history of comic books!" Lee switches off the tape. "Why is it that I always come up with the most brilliant plots just when I'm about to fall asleep?"
The next morning at 6:30 he bounds out of bed in a single leap, plugs in for a shave and then brushes his teeth. "Half the time I brush without Crest," he claims. "I will not be the prisoner of American advertising!" Ten minutes later he is dressed. "I do not believe in bathrobes," Lee says firmly. "It's the kind of in-between garment that gets you nowhere. You can't go outside in it. You can't go to sleep in it. I'm the kind of guy who likes to always feel ready to go!" On his wrist hangs a heavy link silver bracelet. His feet are contained in thoroughbred Guccis. Piercing green-gray eyes are hidden behind prescription shades, but their hip image is offset by a conservative Paul Stuart herringbone jacket and tan slacks.
He struts through the lobby of his New York condominium with an armload of dirty laundry and proceeds along boutique-lined Third Avenue. His virile features are tawny and relatively unlined at age 56. His stomach is fiat, "like iron," he brags. His legs are muscular "from walking to and from the office. You know, after 31 years my wife still thinks I have a perfect body."
He drops off his laundry and picks up the New York Times and the Daily News. "I do not believe in deliveries," he declares. "They inhibit perfectly natural activities."
Back in his 14th-floor apartment, decorated in exotic pieces grouped like a furniture showroom, wife Joan is still asleep. "Why should I get up to make him breakfast?" she asks, not unpleasantly. "He doesn't bother to make it for me."
As a husband liberated by the independence of his wife, Stan Lee has reduced breakfast to a domestic science. "For hundreds of years" he has thrust one Pepperidge Farm apple turnover into a 400 oven and set the timer to go off before "the neighbors holler 'fire.' "
While waiting, he carries his tape recorder into the study, ready to decode, when the phone rings. Lee throws down his Bic, cringing. "There is nothing I hate more than the telephone!" On the line is John Romita, who draws Spider-Man. A crisis is at hand. "Stan," he cries, "either you come up with a plot for the Sunday page by tomorrow or the syndicate will kill Spider-Man!"
"Don't worry, John," Lee reassures him and promises to call back in five minutes. An alarm sounds in the distance. "I've got to save an apple turnover from burning!" In the swashbuckling tradition of one of his own comic book heroes, Lee first rescues breakfast and then, with a flick of his Bic, Spider-Man.
An era in comic book history dates from 1961. That was the year Stan Lee began to create the family of cartoon characters that eventually included Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk and Dr. Strange. They had a profound impact on many youngsters that was hardly as negative as
parents feared and educators preached. Gene Simmons of Kiss, who grew up with Marvel comics, says, "His stories taught me that even superheroes like Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk have ego deficiencies and girl problems and do not live in their macho fantasies 24 hours a day. Through the honesty of guys like Spider-Man, I learned about the shades of gray in human nature."
Lee's arch rival, Jenette Kahn, publisher of Superman comics, adds, "Stan Lee created characters who related to the experience of the alienated youth of the 1960s." As publisher, creative director, active writer and even spokesman for the comic book business on the college lecture circuit, Lee is, according to the gracious Kahn, "the living superhero for the American comic industry."
Cary Grant has phoned Lee to express his appreciation of Marvel comics, introduced to him by his daughter, Jennifer. Federico Fellini, the Italian film director, showed up in Lee's office with an admiring entourage. French director Alain Resnais wanted Lee to write a script for a film. "But most of the phone calls," says Martha Conway, Lee's 24-year-old secretary, "are from 12-year-old boys inviting him to their bar mitzvahs or 13-year-old girls who want to know how to attract a superhero."
Marvel sells about six million comic books a month in 15 languages. With upwards of $25 million a year in sales, it is the largest and most successful business of its kind in the world—"if not the universe." For the past few years Lee has written the narrative for only two of the strips—Spider-Man, which appears in about 500 newspapers, and the Hulk, in 200 papers. He devotes the rest of his time to supervising the transition of his characters into other media. The Hulk was a prime-time sensation last season and continues among the top 20 shows. Spider-Man made five specials last season, and CBS has scheduled more this year. Dr. Strange and another hero, Captain America, also have starred in specials from Universal.
With so many pop groups fascinated by comic heroes these days, Stan has become the Werner Erhard of the rock world. Paul McCartney asked him to come up with vivid characters to give personality to his second band. One of Meat Loaf's songwriters wants Lee to do a script for a Broadway musical for the singer, and Lee has already submitted an outline.
In turn, Stan has made some rock superstars into comic book heroes themselves. The Kiss edition was a huge seller. The Beatles flopped because the company misjudged their popularity. But Mick Jagger and the Stones, soon to be published, should do well, and Alice Cooper was recently signed up.
In recognition of Lee's unique role in American mythmaking, Harper and Row has paid out a "sizable" advance for his autobiography. "But I asked them to give me five years to write it," he says, "because I haven't done an eighth of the things I want to do. You know," he adds wistfully, "I still feel as if I'm waiting to be discovered."
Stanley Martin Lieber was born December 28, 1922 in Manhattan. In his family's cramped three-room apartment, "I slept in the living room until I was old enough to need my privacy." Then he switched rooms with his parents. Nine years after he was born, his brother, Larry, who now draws the Hulk, arrived. Lee says, "I have no idea where he slept. I always considered him only a guest." By the time he was 10, Stan's mother, Celia, already thought of her little boy as some kind of superior human being. "Whenever I walked in the door, she'd ask me why some talent scout hadn't whisked me off the street and taken me straight to Hollywood." Stan saw every Errol Flynn movie "a hundred times" and loved adventure books.
During the Depression, his father, Jack, found it hard to get work as a dress cutter. The frustration turned his older son into a workaholic. "School was just something to get past."
After graduation from DeWitt Clinton High, Lee was offered an $11-a-week job as a gofer at the firm that would become Marvel Comics—"I was probably the only one who applied." A few months later both editor and art director walked out over a disagreement with the publisher, leaving Lee in charge. He was 17. "I knew the position was only temporary. I figured I would last maybe two or three weeks." That was in 1939.
While the company grew, Stan achieved a reputation as a formidable ladies' man. Then in November 1947 he strolled up Fifth Avenue from his offices in the Empire State Building to have a look at a "gorgeous redhead" recommended as a date by his cousin Morty. When Lee opened the door to her office, he took one long look at "that face and hair" and surrendered. "I love you!" he cried. Joan Clayton Boocock, a hat model, was flattered. She was also married.
He insists that her first marriage "wasn't so great." Joan corrects him without hesitation. "I had only known my first husband 24 hours when we decided to get married," she explains. "It really was a great marriage in many respects. But after living with him a year, I was finding him sort of boring ..." Lee was nothing if not interesting. Joan recalls, "He wore a marvelous floppy hat and a scarf and spouted Omar Khayyam when he took me for a hamburger at Prexy's. He reminded me of that beautiful man, Leslie Howard." They dated for a passionate two weeks, and then he proposed. "But first I had to send her to Reno for a divorce."
So Joan took off for Nevada and met another—and richer—man, a cowboy who also wanted to marry her. "I thought for a moment, maybe this is better ..." But when Stan got a letter mistakenly addressed to "Jack," the Reno rival, he grabbed his scarf and flew to Joan's side. The judge who granted her divorce married them.
For the next 19 years they lived on Long Island, where Joan Lee raised their daughter, Joanie (a younger daughter, Jan, died in infancy). Wife and daughter became accustomed to hearing the cries and whispers of creativity as Lee acted out his heroes' tales of adventure. "Don't worry," Joa-nie would assure her friends at the strange noises coming from the study. "That's just my father at work." In 1969 the couple moved to New York City, where Joanie was in acting school.
One reason for Lee's 40-year loyalty to Marvel may be that, unlike other creators of comics such as Garry Trudeau or Charles Schulz, Lee does not own the rights to any of his heroes. The company does. To leave would mean walking out on his creations. "I'm not a man to turn his baq,k on his children," he says. His job is not without its rewards, however. His salary is upwards of $100,000 a year, plus fees and royalties from TV scripts and books.
At 9:30 Lee enters the tacky offices of Marvel Comics on Madison Avenue. He is singing the Alka-Seltzer jingle. The phones are ringing. Before anything else, he has a heavy problem to resolve. Spider-Man's Aunt May has been pressuring him to get married. Unfortunately, Lee killed off the hero's girlfriend, Gwendolyn, in an earlier episode. Ignoring the phones, Lee reaches for a pen and begins to scribble. He bites his thumb. He pulls out a tissue and blows his nose. "I always have a cold," he cries. "Even when I don't have a cold, I sound like I do."
Pacing the floor, he wanders into the hallway and puts a quarter in the machine for a cup of chicken soup. "I will not drink coffee after 7 a.m." A parade of employees, eager and young, marches in and out his door. They represent the "20,000 different projects" going on at the moment. Lee concentrates on each visitor but remains offhand and cool. Things get tense only when John Romita pops in. "Is Spider-Man getting married next week or isn't he?"
Lee tenses and asks his secretary to hold the calls. He shuts the door and puts a hand on Romita's shoulder. "John," he says thoughtfully, "I'd like to have a wedding, but do you really think Spider-Man is mature enough?
TV Guide, 1978