In his column for The Robot’s Voice, my friend Jim Dandeneau posted a link to GALACTUS IS COMING, the Stan Lee/ Jack Chick mashup that Ed Conley wrote and I drew nine years (!) ago. Still one of my happiest, most satisfying collaborations, you can read the while thing here.
Marvel’s Mutant fremenies mini-busts for my friend Kait’s birthday. These were made with Sculpey Firm and Apoxie over an aluminum armature, finished with black matte spray primer and silver and metallic red leaf. The X emblem in the stand was hand-carved, stained, and polyurethaned. Each bust is about 3″ high.
Professor Charles Xavier and Magneto were created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
And that’s it! My top 30 favorite Marvel Comics character in minibust form. So many fun characters had to be left out (Sorry Blade! Sorry Kingpin! Sorry everyone in Power Pack! Punisher- you’re still a Spider-Man villain to me, and I didn’t have room for Norman Osborn, the ne plus ultra of Spidey villains, so you didn’t make the cut). Marvel has been publishing for more than 70 years, have thousands of characters, and occupied most of my childhood and young adulthood.
For all my love of this vast fictional universe, in this series I’ve tried to pay homage to the creators of these characters. It’s very easy to think of the Marvel Universe as an almost organic whole, and that these stories will be there every month without fail, but without Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, John Romita, Gene Colan, Steve Gerber, John Byrne, Chris Claremont, and so many more there would be no Marvel Universe. These people gave words and form to the imaginary heroes who have thrilled us. As a kid, I may have wanted to swing across a cityscape like Spider-Man or have the strength of the Thing. But as an adult I wish I could create something to inspire people the way Jack Kirby has.
The ever-lovin’, blue-eyed idol o’ millions, Benjamin J. Grimm.
Reed Richard, Sue Storm, her brother Johnny, and Ben Grimm launched an experimental rocket into a cosmic ray storm and, crash-landing back on earth, were transformed into the superhuman Fantastic Four. Reed, Sue, and Johnny gained the power to stretch like elastic, to turn invisible at will, and to become a “Human Torch,” respectively, but Ben… Ben was permanently distorted into a humanoid pile of orange rocks. The Thing.
THE FANTASTIC FOUR #1 (1961)was the beginning of what’s considered the Marvel Age of comics. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s great breakthrough was the concept of superheroes with human vulnerabilities and flaws, who fought and reconciled like a family. In the Marvel Universe there were super-powers, but they came at a cost. Prior to that, superheroes usually had secret identities, mortal alter-egos they could retreat to when their adventures were concluded. The Fantastic Four did not; Ben Grimm couldn’t.
Always a tough Jewish guy from Brooklyn, Ben was now too tough for the small and fragile world around him. At home only with his surrogate family, Ben channeled his great strength into his adventures with the Fantastic Four. Reed, the greatest scientific mind of his generation, looked for a cure for Ben’s condition, but could never find one. Outwardly Ben put on a brave face, playing the same lovable lout he’d always been, waiting for the moment he can let lose and holler “IT’S CLOBBERIN’ TIME!”
Hope you’ll pass through this way tomorrow for another installment of MIGHTY MARVEL MAY.
Poor Peter Parker. Orphaned as a boy and raised by his elderly aunt and uncle, he was a frail science geek who was bullied at school. When a freak accident involving a radioactive spider-bite granted him he proportionate strength, speed, and agility of a spider, he did what anyone would do: he went on television to get rich and famous.
The world had taught Peter the hard lesson that he should always look out for himself first, which is why he failed to stop an escaping robber, something well within his ability to do without much risk to himself. Peter’s beloved Uncle Ben paid the price for Peter’s arrogance when the robber shot and killed Ben that very night. After bringing the crook to justice Peter Parker- now and forever the Amazing Spider-Man- remembered the more important lesson Ben had taught him: with great power comes great responsibility.
That was the story Stan Lee and Steve Ditko told in fourteen pages in AMAZING FANTASY #15 in 1962. The story has changed very little in the retelling over the years, and that core guilt- that Peter could have helped and did not- has driven the character ever since.
Spider-Man was revolutionary for a number of reasons. He was a teenager, but not a sidekick, who called himself a man, as almost any almost-grown boy would do. He had problems, usually very serious ones, that usually came less from his adventures as Spider-Man as from his own poverty, need to care for his elderly Aunt May (the revelation that Peter was Spider-Man would, he feared, give her a fatal heart attack), and his own awkward adolescence. Now able to easily beat high school bully Flash Thompson, Peter needed to restrain himself and continue playing the meek bookworm he no longer was
But far from a dark, melancholy character, Spider-Man was exuberant as he swung over Manhattan and bounced around his foes, wisecracking and attaching a note “Compliments of your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” to defeated criminals. It was as if being Spider-Man was the only time Peter could be who he really wanted to be without consequence.
Peter failed almost as often as he succeeded. His victories were usually temporary. He chose to be good when being selfish would be so much easier. Ditko’s design for Spider-Man is one of the most iconic in all of comics. His own masked face is his emblem, a face that could hide anyone, that could be any one of us.
Be here for tomorrow’s MIGHTY MARVEL MAY because it’s gonna rock.
They say we like people for their good qualities and love them for their flaws. There may be no Marvel character who better exemplifies this principle than Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Appearing in the very first Marvel comic, MARVEL COMICS #1, in a story written and drawn by a young Bill Everett. (Namor’s title, the Sub-Mariner, is pronounced mr-nr, as in “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” as opposed to as in submarine.)
From the beginning, Namor was a contradictory, angry mess. The offspring of a human sailor and an Atlantean mother, Namor was amphibious, with Caucasian skin tones (as opposed to his mother’s blue skin), pointed ears and elven eyebrows. He possessed superhuman strength and endurance, which made sense since he lived deep underwater and wore only tiny swim trunks, but he also had a feature unrelated to his human or Atlantean heritage: tiny wings on his ankles which allowed him to fly. It’s an entirely whimsical, Golden Age idea which makes no logical sense, even in a world where radioactive accidents grant more superpowers than they do cancer. But the strange detail made him master of land, sea, and air.
But there was no place Namor was truly at home. Although a prince by birthright, Atlantis considered him a half-breed, and the surface world wanted no part of him, either. So he was a belligerent brat, attacking Manhattan with tidal waves and monsters from the deep over perceived slights. When the US entered World War II in real life, Namor decided he hated the Axis most of all the airbreathers.
In the 1960s, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revived the Sub-Mariner, initially as a villain, when the Human Torch found Namor living as an amnesiac vagrant in a flophouse. Although he hadn’t aged, years on dry land had erased his memory, but one good dip in the ocean set him back to his petulant, pompous self.
Constantly vacillating between mankind’s defender and its greatest foe, Namor is somehow nonetheless an engaging character. Like a beloved drunk who gets violent when he’s had too much, Namor’s friends in the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the X-Men, all embrace him when he calms back down.
I depicted Namor with gills, which John Byrne introduced in his Namor series of the 1990s. He also eliminated the wings and suggested too long in either environment triggers Namor’s mood swings, which struck me as over-explanation. The Hulk is the repressed, raging id of a bookworm scientist, unleashed with the force of an atomic bomb. Namor? He’s just moody.
I hope you’ll swing by for tomorrow’s installment of MIGHTY MARVEL MAY!
Doc Bruce Banner,
Belted by gamma rays,
Turned into the Hulk…
Stan Lee has said that the Hulk, co-created with artist Jack Kirby, is based on Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde, the good man who becomes a monster, and also on Boris Karloff’s version of Frankenstein’s monster, the misbegotten, persecuted creature. Those influences are fairly evident. What is absent from all but the original versions of the Hulk are his Cold War origins. Doctor Bruce Banner was a meek, bookish man who used his genius to build weapons of mass destruction and, caught in the blast of one of his bombs, became one himself.
The Hulk is Banner’s alter-ego. When angered, Banner becomes a seven-foot, thousand-pound, musclebound, lime-green, simple-minded version of himself (in most versions: he originally changed at nightfall, was gray-skinned, and merely terse, not simple). As he grows angrier, he gets stronger,often proclaiming “Hulk is strongest one there is!” After the anger has faded, he reverts back to a scrawny Bruce Banner by the side of the road somewhere, his clothes in tatters, barely able to remember what he’s done.
In the 1980s, writer/artist Barry Windsor-Smith proposed a story which would reveal that Bruce Banner had been physically abused as a child. The revelation would suggest that the Hulk was not merely Banner’s repressed anger, but a physical manifestation of the anger of an abused child, to some degree explicating the Hulk’s childlike demeanor. Marvel ran a version of the story, but without Windsor-Smith (and interesting account of the behind-the-scenes story of how Marvel passed and then ended up using the story anyway can be found here).
The Hulk’s adventures both permit us to worry for Dr. Banner, the victim of violence who perpetuates violence without meaning to, and vicariously enjoy the demolition when he transforms and bellows “HULK SMASH!”
I hope you’ll return for tomorrow’s installment of MIGHTY MARVEL MAY even if tomorrow’s installment isn’t very nice.