Tuesday, March 7, 2023

The Story Formulas of the Marvel Age of Comics!


To enjoy the world of Marvel Comics you have to accept certain formulas, repeated plot points and situation that they routinely presented during the Marvel Age of Comics 1961-1977.

Approach this with a sense of humor and don’t take it too seriously and please add your own suggestion.


 Marvel Formula #1: The Chameleon, Duplicate and Robot Formula!

Shape-Shifting Creatures: These Beings can change their shape and their clothes to become exactly what they have seen even only once. They will fool friends, lovers, readers and, of course, the mobs that are usually there. There are no good guys with these powers.

Impersonators: The Chameleon, Red Skull and even a few good guys. They can instantly put on and take off masks (even over their own masks) which miraculously also gives the same height, clothes, voice and build of the person they are impersonating.

Robots: Built by Doctor Doom, S.H.I.E.L.D. and others, they not only look, move and sound like the real thing, but can reason and think like a real person.

Added to this is that it usually takes place on the second issue!  Fantastic Four #2 has the Skrulls, The Wizard Impersonates the Torch in his Second appearance in Strange Tales #102, Spider-Man meets the Chameleon in his second issue (Spider-Man #1, Amazing Fantasy #15 was his first) and the Avengers fight the duplicating Space Phantom in their second issue. The recordholder though is held by Captain America, who had a duplicate even before the modern Captain America was introduced! In Strange Tales #114.This leads to:

Marvel Formula #2: Heroes Must Fight Themselves!

The Old Iron Man fights the New Iron Man! The old Avengers must fight the new Avengers. Thor must fight Thor and Captain America must fight Captain America. Sometimes robots and impersonators are needed! Thor would fight a duplicate of himself in Journey into Mystery #95, and Iron Man would fight his in Tales of Suspense #65 (May 1965). My favorite is Captain America fighting himself in four issues, 152-154.


Marvel Formula #3: If It Works in A Western or in a Romance comic...

A lot of the Marvel story lines first appeared in Marvel’s westerns. Many characters including The Black Panther, Cobra (called the Rattler); Doctor Doom (The Man in the Iron Mask), even a revival of the Golden Age Red Raven appeared in a Western. 

The Rawhide Kid origin is the forerunner of Spider-Man’s. Many of Marvel’s  artists and writers also first appeared in the westerns.

           Patsy Walker and friends graduate from High School and before you know it, the X-men and Spider-Man graduate from high school. 

Patsy’s boyfriend goes to Vietnam, Flash Thompson soon will follow.


          From the beginning, Marvel characters crossed over or guest starred in another title. As soon as Marvel had more than one super-hero title, the heroes crossed over. The Fantastic Four appear in Amazing Spider-Man #1. But guest-starring didn’t start in the super-hero books; it first happened in the Westerns and the Romance books.


Marvel Formula #4: Copy things That Work.

If the Puppet Master proves popular give the readers Mr. Doll, a man who can control minds using dolls (Tales of Suspense #48). And if that works give them the Painter of 1,000 Perils  (Strange Tales #108) to do the same thing. The same goes with plot lines. As mentioned, duplicates show up in many stories, especially with the first issue.

Marvel Formula #5: Ignore, or quickly get rid of, Things That Don’t Work.

A secret identity for The Human Torch in Strange Tales  didn’t work (he didn’t have one in The Fantastic Four) so after issue #106 it was never mentioned again. Professor X has designs on Jean Grey and that didn’t work so they forgot about that too. For only one issue, in Strange Tales #107, Namor could replicate the powers of fish. Pietro’s and Wanda’s original parents, The Whizzer and Miss America (Giant-Size Avengers #1) were also forgotten when another writer made their father Magneto.

Marvel Formula #6: Every Hero Must Have A Counterpart; So Must Every Group.

Heroes must have a villain, or an evil relative, similar to themselves. Captain America had the Red Guardian, Iron Man fought the Titanium Man and the Crimson Dynamo; Doctor Strange fought Baron Mordo and Sgt. Fury fought Baron Strucker.

1. All groups, such as The Fantastic Four must have a counter group, often with a similar name. The Fantastic Four had the Frightful Four and The X-Men had the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants

2. The bad guys have to play fair: their “evil” group have to have the same amount of members. The evil Fantastic Four could not be the Frightful Five, Six or Seven and the proportion of men and women must be the same for both groups.

3. Although the Wizard was the leader, Paste Pot Pete was the glue that held the Frightful Four together. And the Sandman was no day at the beach. Well, maybe he was, sort of.

Marvel Formula #7: The Howlers Formula: An Early Death

War comics must adopt the Howler’s Formula: The group must be racially mixed and a member must meet a tragic death in five issues or less. This happened in Captain Savage and Combat Kelly.

Marvel Formula #8: Mind Control.

This is used primarily when two heroes must fight each other. The Puppet Master and the Mad Thinker were the most persuasive at getting this done. Diablo, however, was the best; he could control the mind of Dragon Man, a creature without a mind!

Marvel Formula #9: DON’T DEFEAT YOUR ENEMY!

The good guys did not usually defeat the bad guys. They just stopped them. Readers no longer had to endure the obligatory scene, in a follow up story,  where the villain breaks out of prison. (This was so common at DC at the time.

Marvel Formula #10: No One Gets Hurt!

When Marvel heroes fought each other, usually do to a misunderstanding, mind control or any other reason, no one is hurt, bruised or even fatigued. In fact, they often then banded together to fight the “real” enemy.

Marvel Formula #11:

Getting Powers Without a Hitch! (This was true at DC too!)

Superman, The X-Men and The Sub-Mariner were all born with their powers. Ant-Man, The Atom and Captain America acquired them. Some, like Spider-Man, the Flash and Green Lantern had their powers thrust upon them. They all had one thing in common; they were  all single at the moment they get their powers! Picked at random by an unknown spaceman, a chance discovery of a magic hammer, a radioactive spider, a radioactive bomb or radioactive anything, super powers came only to those who were single.

Marvel Formula #12: When a Hero Renews a Series, he always brings along an old villain:

Whenever a (cancelled) hero was given a new strip they always seem bring back his first villain. every time Doctor Strange came back they gave him the same villain: Nightmare. Captain America always got the Red Skull. And so on.

Marvel Formula #13: With great power comes great sewing skills!

The one power most new Marvel super-heroes acquire is the power to sew. The radioactive spider that bit Peter Parker also imbued him with the ability to make a perfect pattern and sew a skin-tight costume. Daredevil may have sewn his own costume perfectly despite being blind, but that didn’t stop his first yellow one from being awful. Heroes have only one costume that never gets torn or dirty! (Ditko’s Spidey was an exception!).

Marvel Formula #14
: Superior Beings.

You knew The Watcher, Galactus, Odin and the Stranger had the qualities needed to be superior in the Marvel World. They were tall and imposing, with a great many cool gadgets, and could both hover and could often walk in mid-air. They also spoke in all-knowing riddles.

Marvel Formula #15: A Good Character, Even A Minor One, Is A Terrible Thing to Waste:

Characters should not be wasted. See Willy Lumpkin, created in 1960 as a comic strip and NOT originally a part of the Marvel Universe appears the Fantastic Four.  Patsy Walker comes back as a super-hero. Hey, they brought back the Impossible Man.


Marvel Formula #16: A Villain, Even A Minor One, Is A Terrible Thing To Waste.

Nowhere is the credo more evident that people CAN indeed change than in a Marvel comic. They are usually given a name change, costume change or amnesia (no one remembers that they were once villains). Introduced as Madam Medusa in Fantastic Four #36, Medusa goes through all three transformations. Her origin is covered in about three panels in Fantastic Four  #36. We learn about her incredible hair and that she is being chased or persecuted by the police. Why? Who knows. She then joins up with the Wizard to become one of the Frightful Four. Why? Who knows? Eventually, she becomes part of the good Fantastic Four and even fights the bad Frightful Four in Fantastic Four (#129-130, 133 and 148), who have replaced her with another woman, of course. (They are obligated to! See Formula #6.) The good guys completely trust her, forgetting that she betrayed her original team. The Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Hawkeye, have taken similar paths, complete with the trust and costume changes.

Marvel Formula #17: Introducing a new Hero: Pages at The Beginning.

In the first few issues of a series introducing a new super-powered hero, Marvel would often demonstrate their powers doing something irrelevant to the main story. This was true with Iron Man, Thor and many others. They used the same thing with Dracula, but he would be shown stalking his dinner before the actual story got under way.

Marvel Formula #18: Heroes May Not Want To Be A Hero.

Most often this was the case because they have trouble controlling their powers. It started with Fantastic Four #1, Ben Grimm had no control over being the Thing. This made the character feel distanced and isolated from the group. The same was true for Scott Summers, Cyclops in The X-Men, whose uncontrollable powers made him a threat to everyone around him. Later he was joined by The Beast whose mutation became uncontrolled. When Black Bolt was introduced as a member of The Inhumans, he too had a deadly power that separated him from the others.

Marvel Formula #19: More Groups!

Tony Isabella: “Unfortunately, editors got involved and laid down all sorts of just patently ridiculous ‘rules’ for doing superhero team books. Like, every team had to have five members... and every team had to have a woman... and every team had to have a guy with super strength... and every team had to have a member who had his own title as well.”

Marvel Formula #20: Villains Made Specifically for An Individual Hero.

In the land of Marvel, certain villains such as  the Asbestos Man, the Melter and the Spider-Slayer were just prepared for one specific hero, although they were in New York, home of all heroes. Had The Human Torch phoned Iron Man and exchanged the Asbestos Man for the Melter they would have had an easy day.

Marvel Formula #21: Mutations!

Characters will only mutate into their namesakes. An important lesson: The Cat mutates into a cat, The Beast mutates into a beast. Why didn’t the  Beast mutate into a recognizable cat? Or a dog? Also note that characters mutated by gamma rays only in The Hulk comics   (the Leader, the Abomination, Doc Samson) and those mutated by cosmic rays appear in The Fantastic Four (the Red Ghost, his Apes and Annihilus).

Marvel Formula #22: Winning but having an unhappy ending!

It started with the Comics Code in 1955, which stated, briefly, that heroes had to win so there was nothing but happy endings. Marvel changed that. By presenting the personal and romantic stories of their heroes, characters such as Spider-Man could defeat the bad guy, but the story would not end all that happily because of a bad romance or a sick Aunt May. The stories often were often like soap operas often continuing the story in the next issue. The first time this happened was in Fantastic Four #3 when The Human Torch quits the F.F. after they had defeated the villain. You were surprised and saddened by the unhappy ending.


Marvel Western Formula #23: I kid you not!

Kid Colt, Apache Kid, Two Gun Kid, Kid Slade, The Outlaw Kid, Ringo Kid, Texas Kid, Western Kid, Arizona Kid, Rawhide Kid, Kid, The Dakota Kid, The Gun-Barrel Kid, The Rio Kid, The Sycamore Kid, Kid Melton, The Fargo Kid, The Hair-Trigger Kid, Captain O. U. Kidd, The Durango Kid, The Hard Luck Kid, City Kid Carver, The Nevada Kid, The Gunsmoke Kid, The Phoenix Kid, The Gun-Dance Kid, The Tombstone Kid, The Laredo Kid, The Utah Kid, The Topeka Kid, Kid Barrett, Kid Cassidy and the Prairie Kid. ‘Nuff said.


Marvel Formula #24: Remembrances of Things Past:

Creative talent who left the company were immediately forgotten and even erased. Stan had the salutation on the letter pages start with the names of the writer and artist. For example, letters to Spider-Man would begin, “Dear Stan and Steve.” Steve Ditko drew issue #38 and then left Marvel; in that same issue his name was not omitted from all the letters! Amazing! Often when an artist or writer left, even in the case of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, their names were deleted  from the credits of reprints.

Marvel Formula #25: Power Corrupts…

...and super-powers corrupt absolutely, well almost. The good guys, once they got their powers, became instant heroes. However, many other people, not necessarily evil or even bad, seem to become evil lunatics when given powers in similar ways as the hero. In fact, place  anyone in the Iron Man armor who is not Tony Stark and he will go nuts. The Molten Man, the Lizard, the Abomination, the Leader, the Meteor Man are insane... not evil. But when they get powers, especially ones that make them look ugly, they get pissed and evil.

Marvel Formula #26: Everything Old is New Again.

So many characters are reintroduced as new, but often only have their costumes redone. The NEW Black Widow; the NEW Iron Man; the NEW Giant-Man; the even NEWER Giant-Man (Goliath); and the Sensationally NEW Captain Marvel. (Yes, it really does say that on the cover)

Marvel Formula #27: Name that Goon!

What parent gives a child a name that let’s everyone know he will be evil? Victor Von Doom, Count Nefaria, Annihilus, Diablo, and Doctor Nemesis. This is not to be confused with character names that tell you the exact evil that they do such as the Fixer, Doomsday Man and the Executioner.

Marvel Formula #28: Dames, Dames Dames!

Early in the Marvel Age, all boys are referred to as men, for example, Spider-Man and Iceman. All women, however, are referred to as girls. Sue Storm was older than Johnny, her teen-age brother and old enough to be a wife and mother. Yet she was the Invisible Girl. And Jean Grey, older than the Iceman, was Marvel Girl. Super-teams generally had one woman and the rest men, It’s never the other way around, with more women than men.

Marvel Formula #29: Ideas die with their creators.

Important inventions are always accomplished by an individual scientist or inventor, who never seem to have left notes. No one ever worked in a team, even if it was a government project. This makes it impossible to duplicate their experiments. Doctor Reinstein invented the Super-Soldier formula that gave us Captain America, Prof. Horton invented The Human Torch, and even at DC, Doctor Erdel transported the Martian Manhunter to Earth. No government agency comes calling, inquiring about the amazing invention. Like what happened to Henry Pym’s original plans for shrinking anything to reduce shipping costs? When they die they take their secrets with them!

Marvel Formula #30: Story Titles are recyclable.

Just change genres and sometimes a word or two.


Marvel Formula #31: Girlfriends of Super-Heroes must always be kidnapped and taken hostage!

It must be part of the job description! Every girlfriend of a super-hero must be kidnapped or held hostage by the super-villain on a regular basis. This happens whether or not the girlfriend or the villain knows the true identity of the boyfriend. I believe Jane Foster (from Thor) holds the record. Worse yet, they can be former girlfriends, not in the stories for years, but will still find themselves a victim. And it does not matter how long they have been girlfriends; it could be just that issue! Aunts, mothers and fathers are included, See Spider-Man Annual #2.


Marvel Formula #32: DRAW IT OUT.

As the page count grew smaller in gthe mid 1970s and the Marvel Age grew older, plot points sometimes seemed to go on for countless issues.. Marvel stories began to be very drawn out and told at a much slower pace.


  1. This is such a GREAT article. These are the comics I grew up with, and still love all the recycled plot points Stan and the Gang used. And Paste Pot Pete is SUCH a better name than the Trapster.

  2. how the hell do I follow your blog - nothing anywhere about it?