It's hard to fathom today, but the Silver Surfer's creation and first appearance was totally startling to readers.
Before he first appeared in the mid-1960s, the typical superhero was almost always a spandex-clad human - Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern. Their powers were generally the result of birth in a foreign world or environment (Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Thor) an accident (Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Hulk, Daredevil, Captain America), or mutation (X-Men). Most every one was a Caucasian American.
When Jack Kirby unveiled the Silver Surfer for the first time in Fantastic Four (1961 series) issues #48 to 50, he came as a seismic jolt to readers because he broke the mold of superhero stereotypes. He was an alien stranded on earth, but one who didn't desire to assimilate (like Superman). Instead, he was incredulous about the foibles of the human condition.
He began life as an alien from a distant planet, which was threatened by the world-eater Galactus, who needed the energy of other worlds to survive. When Galactus was about to consume his homeworld, he agreed to become Galactus' herald and search for other planets for Galactus to destroy and consume.
Eventually, he scouted Earth to prepare it for Galactus' destruction. But, moved by humanity's plea, he chose to save Earth. But, as punishment for his disloyalty to Galactus, Galactus created a barrier around Earth functional only to the Surfer, exiling him here, never to see his loved ones again.
In 1968, Marvel launched the Surfer in his own series, which followed the Surfer's attempts to escape Earth while saving people who mostly feared and despised him. He saved them because of his morality and to create goodwill with humans.
The series was a startling indictment of the violent nature in the human spirit. It offered insightful, thought-provoking dialogue, where the Surfer spoke out against society's ills - like& humankind's propensity for violence, fear and hate. Coming during the peak of the 1960s social revolution and the Vietnam war protests, the Surfer became one of the most popular contemporary fiction characters on college campuses.
Just as the TV show Star Trek disguised contemporary societal issues in a science-fiction context, the Silver Surfer did the same. No TV show or magazine in the 1960s would dare to deal with a real discussion of current issues - to avoid antagonizing its audience. With the United States divided down the middle on issues like the war in Vietnam and the civil rights movement, a discussion could only be had by disguising it within a science fiction setting. The success of this series was due in no small part to dealing with these hot button issues when no other media would.
To emphasize the importance of the message and the series, Marvel launched the series with 44 page stories compared to the typical 22 page comics of the era.
In a 2007 interview with Comic Book Resources, comic writer Simon Spurrier noted, "The Surfer is a perpetual idealist: he can spot the potential for great things in the people around him, but can't understand why, in spite of it all, they're so petty, small-minded and intent on self-destruction."
In a 2010 Newsarama interview, comic writer Greg Pak noted, "The Silver Surfer may be the most original character in superhero comics."
The unique theme of the series created a hardcore cult following, but never a mass audience and the series was cancelled after just 18 issues. Decades later, the series remains a portal into the consciousness of the counter culture of the 1960s.
Twenty years after his introduction, and long after the counter culture movement of the 1960s had ended, Marvel changed the basic conflict of the character and in Silver Surfer (1987 series) he escaped Earth to travel the galaxy. In a post Star Wars environment of strange new alien worlds to explore and absent the basic ideology of the original series, the new series appealed to a wider audience and lasted 11 years and 146 issues.
Oh, and why a surfboard? Was it symbolic of the counter culture's free-wheeling vitality or anything like that? Uh, no. According to 1995's The Ultimate Silver Surfer, Kirby had the character flying on a surfboard because he was merely "tired of drawing spaceships."
The Uncanny X-Men comic book series is more than merely a continuation of X-Men (1963 series). Rather, it is important because of the influence of writer Chris Claremont, who wrote the series for 16 years.
The X-Men featured teenagers born with genetic mutations which gave them super powers. Different from most humans, they were viewed as outcasts. The X-Men stories explored themes of hate, prejudice and public fear and intolerance toward mutants. Although the concept was original, sales were mediocre. But Stan Lee, the co-creator of the series and Marvel's editor -in-chief salvaged the series. Rather than cancel it, he merely reprinted stories in issues #67 to #93.
The X-Men's popularity soared when Chris Claremont (writer) and John Byrne (artist) began as the creative team in issue #108 of X-Men (1963 series). The series was officially retitled Uncanny X-Men with issue #142. That issue featured the second part of Claremont and Byrne's acclaimed Days of Future Past storyline which formed the basis of the 2014 X-Men movie.
Together, they created the greatest, most epic stories of our time, such as the riveting Dark Phoenix Saga (issues #129-137) in which Jean Grey fully turns to the dark side. That storyline introduced Kitty Pryde and Emma Frost (in issue #129). And Claremont and Byrne created the Canadian super-team Alpha Flight (#120), which also shed more light on the ever-popular Wolverine who was once affiliated with them.
In 2008, Comic Book Resources ranked Claremont and Byrne's work on Uncanny X-Men the second best creative team-up in comic book history. (Only Stan Lee and Jack Kirby topped them). In May 2014 Rolling Stone gushed, "Claremont combined soapy angst with cosmic scope, while hitting the prejudice theme harder than ever: Now the teenage outsiders who had begun to dominate comic-book readership saw the mutant struggle as their own."
Byrne left after issue #143, but Claremont continued for another 10 years - an incredible run. He created Rogue, who first appeared in Avengers (1963 series) Annual #10. Originally a villain and a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, she flipped sides and joined the X-Men in #171.
Claremont is credited with developing strong female characters and introducing complex literary themes with deep, emotional stories that went beyond the usual action-adventure fare in comics. Claremont also created Jubilee (#244), Gambit (#266), the time-traveling Bishop (#282) as well as dozens of other X-Men characters, including Sabretooth, Captain Britain, Rachel Summers, and Madeline Pryor.
For example, in issue #303 Colossus' little sister, Illyana, dies from a fatal virus. A heartbroken Jubilee rages over the loss. Jean Grey comforts her, and in poignant writing rarely seen in comic books says, "We come into this world alone and we leave the same way. The time we spend in between time spent alive, sharing, learning together is all that makes life worth living."
With the oldest issue published in 1981 and the last (#544) in 2011, the series in quite affordable. The 403 total issues makes the series relatively easy to collect since there are plenty of copies of most every issue in most every condition.
All Star Comics
All Star Comics began as a superhero anthology back in 1940. But, when the Justice Society of America debuted in issue #3, the superhero group, widely considered the first superhero team, proved so popular that it became the lead story for the rest of the series' run.
The group included DC's original Hawkman, Flash, Green Lantern, the Spectre, and Dr. Fate. Wonder Woman made her first ever appearance in issue #8, but in the male chauvenistic world of 1940s America, she became the group's secretary.
Originally, each issue featured individual stories about each hero. But eventually the format morphed, putting all the heroes into the same story, a format continued when DC created the Justice League of America.
When the superhero popularity waned in 1951, DC ditched the Justice Society and the series after issue #57. Years later, DC resurrected the characters, creating new back-stories and new secret identities for the Flash, Hawkman and Green Lantern. To avoid a world with two different Flashes, Hawkmen and Green Lanterns.
When All Star Comics was revived in 1976, starting with #58, it was set on Earth Two (an alternate world) where the original versions of the heroes existed, separate from Earth One, where the newer versions, created in the 1960s, lived.
Issue #58 featured the debut of Power Girl, the Earth Two Supergirl. Clad in a white costume with a red cape, she has become a popular character to cosplay at comic conventions. (Translation: Lots of ladies dress up as Power Girl at comic book conventions). The revived series also featured Robin, the Star-Spangled Kid, and original JSA members. The Huntress, the daughter of the Earth Two Batman and Catwoman, debuted in #69. Issues #58 to #74 are a great way to read Golden Age style stories without paying astronomical Golden Age prices.
Journey into Mystery
Journey into Mystery is a Marvel title which had three distinct formats spanning 125 issues. From its first publication in 1952 through #22, it featured a horror anthology format.
When the Comics Code Authority began censoring gore and extreme violenc from comic books, the title switched to science fiction and fantasy stories for issues #23 to #82. Stories in this era often featured prototypes of future Marvel heroes. For example, issue #43 contained a story about an invisible woman, which predated the Fantastic Four's Invisible Woman by four years. Issue #66 featured a monster called "The Hulk" - no relation to the Hulk we know today.
And, one year before the first appearance of Spider-Man, issue #73 featured a story about a spider exposed to radiation who gains human powers, a backwards spin to Spider-Man.
However, the series is best known for its third era which began with issue #83 with the first appearance of Thor. In the book "Excelsior!: The Amazing Life of Stan Lee", Lee explained, "I thought it would be fun to invent someone even more powerful than the Hulk. But how do you make someone stronger than the strongest human? It finally came to me; don't make him human, make him a god."
Based on the Norse mythology, in Marvel's version Thor was sent to Earth by his father Odin so he could learn humility. He entered the body of Dr. Donald Blake, and whenever he struck his walking stick on the ground he'd transform into Thor, although the movies have ignored his dual identity. Issue #85 featured the first appearance of his evil adopted brother Loki and #118 introduced Destroyer, both of whom appeared in the 2011 Thor movie.
For any fan of Thor or the Avengers, this series is essential, because #83 to #125 feature the first 43 Thor stories. Most were written by Stan Lee with art by Jack Kirby. As a result, these issues are far more valuable than the first issues of Thor (1966 series)
comics, whose numbering begins when Marvel re-titled the series, starting with issue #126.
Hellblazer stars John Constantine, an occult detective who battles demons, spirits, cults, and serial killers. It takes a tough guy to fight these battles and Constantine even commented in his first appearance in Swamp Thing (1982 series) #37, "I'm a nasty piece of work".
The series is Vertigo's longest-running title ever, lasting 300 issues over 25 years. Empire Magazine ranked Constantine #3 in their list of the 50 Greatest Comic Book Characters.
Constantine often operates in morally gray areas, like pulling a con to thwart a catastrophe or sacrificing a friend. As a reminder their ghosts often haunt him.
With scripts by greats like Neil Gaiman and Garth Ennis, the series featured engaging storylines, especially in 'Dangerous Habits' (issues 41-46) where Constantine is faced with his own mortality after he's diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. This arc showcases Constantine at his witty, deceitful best as devises a way to cure himself.
The series offers plenty of realism -- no superhero appearances, indicating its world was a separate, more real-life universe. And, unlike most comic characters, Constantine aged throughout the series.
Most stories take place near London and the settings offer a gritty atmosphere, perfect for the macabre storytelling.
The series spawned the mediocre 2005 film Constantine starring Keanu Reeves, which deviated alot from the comics. A new Constantine TV show premieres in October of 2014.
For me, this Metal Men comic book series is the most under-rated comic book of all time. The Metal Men were robots, not people. created 25 years before Star Trek created the android named Data. The six Metal Men were Gold, Iron, Lead, Mercury, Platinum (or Tina), and Tin.
Each member's powers were based on the characteristics of their respective metals. Iron was strong and powerful, Mercury could change into a liquid, Lead could protect against harmful radiation and weak, pliable Tin, was the shy weakling of the bunch. Unlike other robots like the Transformers, the Metal Men had a wide range of emotions. They got angry, excited, sad, and even shed tears. A generation before Star Trek's Data brooded over his lack of an emotion chip, the Metal Men's only 'female' member, Tina, had to deal with having a crush on the team's creator, Dr. William Magnus.
The Metal Men first appeared in Showcase #37-#40, DC's tryout comic where characters debuted to test whether they were popular enough to support their own title.
Fun and humor made the series endearing to readers - in issue #12 the Beatles even made a brief cameo. And in issue #21, after being criticized for only fighting other robots, the team goes searching for humans to battle, only to find the Flash, Batman, Robin, and Wonder Woman already dealing with these non-robot threats.
Ross Andru, a popular DC artist, whose work included Wonder Woman, drew the first 29 issues and Robert Kanigher wrote the series, which gave the series great continuity.
The title grew more serious in issues #33-37, when the Metal Men became hunted after the public believes them to be a menace. They adopt human identities in #37 to stop the police from pursuing them. Issues #42 through #44 are reprints and are less expensive than the rest.
In 1993 the team returned in a four-issue series, which generally costs around $10 for the entire series. The current DC editorial crew believes in this group. And they made their New 52 debut with Justice League (2011 series) #28.
With the advances in special effects, a Metal Men movie is finally possible. Executed well, it could drive the Metal Men way up from its current "C" list status. There's great potential here.
In 1966 Marvel created Fantasy Masterpieces (1966 series), which reprinted Golden Age Marvel stories. After 11 issues, it was reformatted and renamed Marvel Super-Heroes.
Issues #12-#20 featured one new story and Golden Age reprints of Captain America, Sub-Mariner, the Black Knight, and the Original Human Torch (not Johnny Storm).
Two of the more sought issues are #12 and #18. Number 12 features the first appearance of the Silver Age Captain Marvel and #18 features the debut of The Guardians of the Galaxy. Although the originals aren't the current roster, this comic is in high demand.
Other characters were spotlighted, like Medusa (#15), Ka-Zar (#19), and even Dr. Doom (#20). Starting with #21, the series featured only Silver Age reprints -- Iron Man and Daredevil (#28-#31), the Incredible Hulk and Sub-Mariner (#32-#55), and the Hulk (#56-#105)
If you're a Hulk fan looking for his original stories at an affordable price, start here.
By the 1980s Spider-Man had become Marvel's most popular hero. His comics sold so well that Marvel was publishing multiple Spider-Man titles each month to meet demand. In addition to Amazing Spider-Man (1963 series), and Spectacular Spider-Man (1976 series), Marvel added Web of Spider-Man in 1985.
Marvel treated Web of Spider-Man as an equal to the other titles, In fact, some story lines crossed over into all three. For example, issue #31 began the famous Kraven's Last Hunt storyline. In a 2012 poll conducted by Comic Book Resources, it was voted the best Spider-Man story of all-time. After starting in #31, it continued in Amazing Spider-Man (1963 series) #293, Spectacular Spider-Man (1976 series) #131, Web of Spider-Man #32, Amazing Spider-Man #294, and Spectacular Spider-Man #132.
There are no major differences in the three series, but the Overstreet Price Guide has a bias against anything other than a hero's primary title. For example, Overstreet values Amazing Spider-Man issues of Kraven's Last Stand at $15 in NM- condition, while the value of the Web of Spider-Man's issues are 33% less.& Same story line, same time frame -- it makes no sense.
Take advantage of it -- Web of Spider-Man is a bargain and it's a relatively inexpensive 129-issue series of Spider-Man comics.
Comics with a
If you're a sports fan, definitely check these out.
For decades, comic book publishers have tried to create popular comic books with a sports theme. In the 1950s pseudo-biographical comics like the Thrilling Story of the Baseball Yankees, or comics featuring Yogi Berra or Jackie Robinson were popular with sports fans but never captured a broader audience.
Babe Ruth lent his name to Babe Ruth Sports, but there was no connection to him other than his name in the title.
In 1973, DC experimented with four issues of Strange Sports Stories (plus appearances in Brave and the Bold #45-#49), and three issues of Champion Sports. When I spoke with Carmine Infantino in 2004, the Hall of Fame artist and DC's publisher in 1973, he said he was proud of Strange Sports Stories for its creative and unique supernatural take on sports but that this innovative mixture of genres "just didn't sell".
Marvel tried sports in 1986 with Kickers, Inc., a 12-issue series starring a football team as crime fighters, whose super strength was created by a combination of radiation exposure and an experimental muscle-enhancing device. NFL SuperPro was another Marvel attempt, with Phil Grayfield getting doused with chemicals which turned him into a near-invincible superhero.
In the 1990s, independent publishers created Baseball Superstars, Baseball Greats, and Baseball Sluggers which featured bios of baseball stars, like Nolan Ryan.
Bo Jackson, the football and baseball star even faced off against Michael Jordan in, what else...
Bo Jackson versus Michael Jordan.
More recently, NASCAR Adventures and Legends of NASCAR have featured bios of drivers. But neither DC or Marvel, the two big fish in comics have published any sports title in years.
But, if you're a sports fan, or if you know a sports fan, these comics are a great way to start a comic book collection. Unlike superheroes, there are a finite number of issues, which will limit your cost. And, since the issues are a bit rarer, you'll get a great sense of satisfaction when you find all the copies to complete any set. And, unlike superhero comics which are in high demand, the lower demand has kept prices for sports comics lower.
and other comics with UFOs and aliens.
In the 1950s, at the infancy of the space program, DC comics (along with other media) had a big interest in stories featuring alien.
The mysteries of space were generally unsolved and writers and artists had a field day imagining strange creatures and alien worlds.
According to David Clarke, co-author of "Out of the Shadows", the widespread believe in UFOs that began in the 1950s was a social phenomenon spearheadeded by the start of the Cold War, when the threat of atomic war hung over the world. "It was just simple to want to believe in something up there in the sky that could come and rescue us," he wrote.
Altough space stories existed before 1950 (think Buck Rogers and H.G. Wells), the 1950s was the genre's peak. Decades later moviemakers George Lucas and Steven Spielberg paid homage to the era in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" and Robert Zemekis mocked a UFO crazed world in "Back to the Future". The comic that best captures the space-crazy fanatacism was Strange Adventures, DC's first science fiction anthology from 1950, followed a year later by
Mystery in Space (1951 series).
Most early issues of Strange Adventures are a who's who of alien creatures. Although conceived as an anthology, Captain Comet, introduced in issue #9 proved so popular that he appeared in issues #9-44, 46 and 49. He was one of the few superheroes introduced in the early 1950s. Captain Comet was one of three stories in each issue. The others continued the anthology theme.
His origin fits with the series' sci-fi theme. During birth, radiation from a comet affected his genes, giving him telekinesis, super strength, and psychic abilities. These mutations make him possibly the first mutant superhero predating the X-Men by a decade.
The UFO craze wasn't confined to DC's anthology titles. The genre spilled over into nearly every DC title, including
Batman and Superman. Other comics also featured outer space stories, including
Unknown Worlds and Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds.
When astronauts actually reached space in the 1960s, the UFO/alien fad faded and Strange Adventures returned to Earth, but retained plots propelled by science from other worlds. Animal Man first appeared in Strange Adventures. Caught in the explosion of an alien spacecraft, he could temporarily mimic the abilities of any nearby animal such as a tiger's leaping ability of a tiger or a gorilla's strength.
Deadman made his first appearance in #205. A circus performer murdered during a performance, he came back from the dead to hunt his killer. Interestingly, #205 was the first time the Comics Code Authority permitted a reference to illegal drugs -- four years BEFORE Amazing Spider-Man (1963 series) #96-98, the famous set of stories featuring drugs that Marvel published without CCA approval. The Deadman run is also noteworthy for showcasing some of
the earliest work of famed artist Neal Adams. His cover for issue #207, shown here, received an Alley Award for Best Cover of 1967.
In 1961, at the dawn of the Marvel Age of Comics, Marvel retitled and reformatted Amazing Adventures (1961 series) as Amazing Adult Fantasy. Each issue featured about five stories, sporting aliens, monsters, magic, people with special abilities and bizarre events. Billed as the magazine that respects your intelligence each story contained a shocking, twist ending (think The Sixth Sense). The stories bring to mind a sci-fi TV shows like The
Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.
With most stories written by Stan Lee, collecting the series is a great way to see early versions of future Marvel characters. For example, in #14, a teenager exhibits telepathic abilities similar to the X-Men's Professor X. And since this story was published two years before the X-Men debuted, you could argue he's Marvel's first mutant. Add into the mix that he resembles Peter Parker (as drawn by Spider-Man's original artist, Steve Ditko), and you begin to
see the development of the Marvel Age. There are only& eight issues (numbered #7 to #14). After #14, it dropped the "Adult" from its title and was renamed Amazing Fantasy and the first issue of that series, #15 featured the debut of Spider-Man.
Werewolf By Night
After U.S. Congressional hearings in 1954, which included testimony from psychologists about the negative influence of horror comics on youngsters, the industry created the Comics Code Authority to censor violent material. As result, horror-themed comics featuring werewolves and vampires were banned. It took 20 years for the Authority to lift the ban on supernatural creatures like vampires and werewolves.
In response, Marvel created Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf by Night. The werewolf's alter ego was Jack Russell, who suffered from an ancient family curse. The series offered a unique take on werewolf mythology -- Jack didn't become a werewolf after getting bitten by one, but simply inherits the curse at age 18. And, he didn't only turn into a werewolf on the night of a full moon, but also on the nights before and after. I guess you could say he got 3 bites of the apple each month. He battled
those who wanted to use the werewolf for their own evil purposes, power or sport. Other times he enlisted the werewolf to protect his loved ones from threats.
He first appeared in Marvel Spotlight (1971 series) #2-#4 before getting his own series. He battled hunters, vigilantes, other werewolves, and even Dracula in issue #15 in a crossover with Tomb of Dracula (1972 series). Iron Man guest-starred in issues #42 and 43. The superhero Moon Knight made his first appearance in #32. Originally an adversary to the Werewolf by Night, the popular Moon Knight went from a supporting adversary to a solo star in Marvel Spotlight #28 and #29 before landing his own series.
The series ran for 43 issues and sparked Marvel's resurgence into horror and paved the way for other supernatural Marvel characters like Ghost Rider.
In 1998, Marvel created an even more violent version in a 6-issue mini-series, Werewolf by Night (1998 series)
Justice League Europe
This is an underappreciated gem. It was spun-off from the popular Justice League (1987 series), when the Justice League just got too big. The original European lineup included Captain Atom, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Power Girl, Elongated Man, Metamorpho, Animal Man, and Rocket Red. They were headquartered in Paris, France.
The series was often pretty funny. For example, some of the heroes (in their civilian identities) go to night school to learn French. To their surprise, their enemies, the Injustice League, are enrolled in the same class (the insanity!). The juxtaposition of adult superheroes behaving like high schoolers provides the comic relief. For example, in the class, one of Injustice Leaguers is caught trying to pass a note to his team explaining that they need to escape. When the teacher intercepts it, he reads the note aloud.
Even issue #1's cover winks at the reader. It mimics the cover of Justice League (1987 series) #1, with Metamorpho holding that same issue and breaking the fourth wall, saying, "Wow. Déjà vu!"
The series also featured more action than the primary Justice League title.
The January 2010 "Comics Should Be Good" blog at Comic Book Resources praised the series as "a fascinating comic, not the least of which is its European location.... unique in a superhero landscape focused on the East Coast of the United States."
Check it out; it's definitely worth a look! Prices generally average about $2.50 per issue.
When Marvel returned to publishing superhero comics in 1961, they were limited to only 8 comics each month by the company that shipped the comics to newsstands. As a result, when Marvel created new heroes, they often put two into one comic. Tales of Suspense featured Iron Man and Captain America,
Tales to Astonish had the Hulk and Sub-Mariner and Strange Tales had Nick Fury and Dr. Strange.
It took the distributor seven years to realize that strong Marvel comic sales warranted more titles. So, in 1968, Marvel split heroes into their own titles. That's why the first issues of Iron Man, Sub-Mariner, Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Doctor Strange, Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD and Captain Marvel are all dated 1968.
Just two years later, Marvel's "House of Ideas" had run out of room yet again. So, they once more put two series in one comic -- Amazing Adventures. The first were the Inhumans and Black Widow.
First appearing in Fantastic Four (1961 series) #45, the Inhumans were superheroes whose ancestors gained powers when exposed to the DNA-altering chemicals by the Krees.
What's special about the earliest stories in this series is they were written and drawn by the great Jack Kirby, who created them along with Stan Lee. By 1975, with Marvel getting even better distribution deals, the Inhumans got their own self-titled series, Inhumans (1975 series).
The series also featured the first solo stories for Black Widow. For years a mid-level Marvel character, her popularity skyrocketed with the enormous success of movies like The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, where she was portrayed by Scarlett Johansson.
One of the more sought after issues is #11, which began the X-Men's Beast run. It was the first time he was seen in his mutated, fur form, a look he's best known for today. This series offers something
for everyone. Issues for fans of the Inhumans are #1-10; for the Black Widow (#1-8); and #11-17 for fans of the Beast and X-Men.
Starting with #18, the series changed to sci-fi stories, with the War of the Worlds (#18-#28 and #35-#39) and Killraven (#29-#34).
Don't confuse this series with Amazing Adventures (1961 series), an anthology of monster and adventure stories (with art by Jack Kirby), or Amazing Adventures (1979 series) which reprinted the original X-Men series.
New Teen Titans
Tales of the Teen Titans
The New Teen Titans was a revival of the 1960's DC title, Teen Titans (1966 series). The Titans were Robin, Wonder Girl, and Kid Flash from the original series, along with newcomers Changeling, Cyborg, Raven, and Starfire.
The series not only focused on the team's heroics, but also on their personal lives as well. Cyborg, the tormented half-man, half-machine, struggled to hold on to his humanity, and the mystic half-demon Raven fought against her dark destiny. And there was the budding romance
between Robin and the alien princess Starfire.
What also makes this series special is that stories included themes about growth into adulthood and self-discovery. In the book George Perez Storyteller, Perez explains, "There was a feeling of evolution to the characters. They were kids, but they were growing ... and having problems unique to young people."
Another reason the series is so popular is for introducing the iconic villain Deathstroke in issue #2. Originally hired to defeat the Titans, Deathstroke became a fan favorite who got his own series in 1991.
After #40, the series was retitled Tales of the Teen Titans and introduced Dick Grayson's new persona Nightwing.
In the year 2099, brilliant geneticist Miguel O'Hara's corporation hooks him on a drug to maintain his loyalty. To rid himself of the addiction, Miguel subjects himself to an experiment not knowing a jealous supervisor has substituted ingredients. As a result, Miguel's genetic code is altered with the spider DNA he had been testing to recreate the powers of the original Spider-Man
A new Spider-Man was born. Spider-Man 2099 was part of the Marvel series of comics focusing on future variations of classic characters, such as the X-Men, Hulk, Punisher, Ghost Rider and Dr. Doom.
Spider-Man 2099 resonated the most, and issue #1 was 1992's 4th biggest selling comic.
What makes Miguel's Spider-Man unique is he wasn't a carbon copy of the original Spider-Man. He had different powers. Instead of mechanical web shooters he had spinnerets on his arms that created organic webbing, and he wielded retractable talons on his fingers and toes, which he used to scale walls and attack. Also, unlike the old Spidey, he could paralyze his enemies with a single bite. His costume was sleeker than Peter Parker's, and it came
with a cape that allowed him to glide on air currents rather than having to swing around on his webbing.
In a March 2009 interview with Newsarama, creator Peter David explained the differences: "If we're going to make him a character unique, then we have to take all the choices that Stan Lee made and do the exact opposite."
One of the more interesting secondary characters is Miguel's holographic servant, Lyla, who resembled Marilyn Monroe. As the series progressed, she developed feelings and this added a captivating layer to the story.
Marvel's concept of a future version of a current hero was a trailblazer for other reimagined books, such as Marvel's 2000 Ultimate series which spawned Ultimate Spider-Man (2000 series).
If you're a fan of the ol’ webslinger or alternate timelines, do not hesitate. As a book of post-1990 vintage, the copies are readily affordable and in good supply.
"As you feel power coursing thru your body, power such as you've never felt before - it is agony - but you do not cry out, and the dragon stirs within you - and your hands begin to smoulder, to glow - until they become like unto things of iron - and Iron Fist is born!" - from Iron Fist #2
He's hot, with a TV series on the horizon.
After the death of his parents, young Danny Rand is adopted by people from the magical city of K'un-L'un where he's trained in the martial arts. But it's not until he defeats a mystical dragon that he his becomes as hard and strong as iron.
Created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane, Iron Fist first appeared in Marvel Premiere #15-#25. This title came next, written by Chris Claremont with art by John Byrne.
Under their run, Iron Fist's plots grew bigger and bolder. In the first seven issues, Iron Fist desperately searches for a missing friend. Iron Fist fights an epic battle against Iron Man after he wrongly believes old Shell Head had something to do his friend's disappearance.
Claremont and Byrne also brought in A-list guest stars like Captain America and the X-Men. Many of Iron Fist's encounters involved fighting another hero, before coming to an understanding. But the crème de la crème of guest appearances is issue #14, featuring the first appearance of X-Men baddie Sabretooth.
If you're not a fan of martial arts, pass on this series. But, if you're a Marvel fan, give it a try. Remember, before the Iron Man and Avengers movies, Iron Man was just a secondary Marvel character. Now he's on the A list. With the Iron Fist TV show ramping up, this "C" lister, is bound for bigger things.
Mystery in Space|
Mystery in Space was DC's flagship science fiction anthology series from 1951 to 1966. It won several awards, including the 1962 Alley Award for best full issue story.
Mystery in Space featured some of the top science fiction writers of the 1950s and 1960s including Gardner Fox, Otto binder, John Broom and Edmond Hamilton. Hall of Fame artists Carmine Infantino, Murphy Anderson, Gil Kane, Alex Toth and Frank Frazetta were also featured.
With the public fixated on space exploration in the 1950s and 1960s, the series appealed to that thread by featuring science-fiction based stories, many featuring stories in the future with exotic aliens. Before the advent of blockbuster space movies like Star Wars, if you were interested in delving into new worlds, this was the comic for you.
Adam Strange became a continuing series starting in the early 1960s, appearing in 42 issues. Gardner Fox created the hero, in the best tradition of Flash Gordon.
So, if you want to read some of the stories that influenced George Lucas and the current generation of moviemakers of space opera epics, you should enjoy Mystery in Space.
After DC successfully reintroduced its Golden Age heroes, the Flash (in 1956) and Green Lantern (in 1960), DC revitalized Hawkman in 1964.
Unlike the original Hawkman who was Carter Hall, an archaeologist and a reincarnated Egyptian prince, the new Silver Age Hawkman, Katar Hol, was an alien police officer from the planet Thanagar.
First introduced in Brave and the Bold (1955 series) #34, Hawkman came to Earth to capture a criminal from his home world and stayed to get his master's degree in "Earth police methods". After appearing in six issues of Brave and the Bold, and four issues of Mystery in Space (1951 series), DC gave him this title.
What made Hawkman unique among DC superheroes was that he was married. Shayera Thal aka Hawkgirl, had the same super-powers. The series also introduced magical spell-caster Zatanna to the DC universe.
So for old fashioned action stories that provide great escapism, this series is worth trying. It's a great read for young readers since you have to worry about anything too unsettling. No blood and guts here.
And finally, a nod to the art by Murphy Anderson, a comic book Hall of Famer, who drew most of the artwork. His Hawkman is very stylistic and intense. You would think a man dressed in wings and a hawk mask would look corny, but Anderson made it work!
Batman Family was published in the mid-1970s and focused on Batman's supporting cast -- Batgirl, Robin, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Man-Bat and others. It also introduced Joker's daughter (issue #6) and revived Batwoman (#10).
With only 20 issues, it's easy to collect and is an essential part of any Bronze Age Batman collection. Every issue was giant-sized and the fill-in stories at the back included reprints of key stories from the Golden and Silver Age.
Issues #76-86 of
When Stan Lee created the Fantastic Four in 1961 and launched the "Marvel Age of Comics", he did so by giving his heroes real emotions, real foibles and real stress by confronting real-world problems. Spider-Man had to repair his tattered costume, The Thing went snow skiing and Harry Osborne (Peter Parker's pal), fell into drug addiction.
By 1970, Marvel had surpassed DC in relevant storytelling, but when DC finally got the message in Green Lantern in #76, they made up for lost time.
Teaming writer Dennis O'Neil with artist Neal Adams, the two created the most memorable story lines of the era in Green Lantern comics. The two pitted Hal Jordan (Green Lantern), an inter-galactic 'law and order' cop against Oliver Queen (as Green Arrow), an outspoken liberal.
The series took on most of the big social issues of the day -- racism, the environment, sexism and heroin addiction. For the first time, DC characters shed their "goody two shoes" images.
The series changed comics forever. Two generations of comic book creators have now adopted their outlook and melded what is really world events into the fictional universe of superheroes. The landmark issue #76 is often cited as the start of the "Bronze Age" of comics.
Only in the world of comics can there be two characters with the same name, published by different companies. But, that's the case with "Captain Marvel".
The original Captain Marvel appeared in Captain Marvel Adventures published by Fawcett Comics and this "Shazam" series features his adventures as brought back by DC in 1972.
The story is a long and tortured legal tale, but in a nutshell, DC owns the rights to the character, but only Marvel can use the character's name -- "Captain Marvel" -- in a comic book title. Marvel's Captain Marvel is a totally different character.
The original Captain Marvel character, as featured in Shazam comics features 12-year old Billy Batson. Whenever Billy speaks the name Shazam, he is struck by a magic lightning bolt that transforms him into a superhero.
Billy Batson's Captain Marvel Adventures was the top selling comic book during World War II. But, once DC comics sued Fawcett, claiming the character infringed the copyright of Superman, his popularity waned, until Fawcett went out of business.
The series is popular with collectors, becausde the original Captain Marvel comics are incredibly expensive. DC's Shazam series recaptures the feel of the 1940's and 1950's stories, but at a fraction of their cost. The new series featured both new stories and reprints form the 1940s and 50s. In most cases, the stories were set on "Earth S", a separate universe from where Superman and other DC characters existed.
First appearing in Amazing Spider-Man (1963 series) #129, the Punisher quickly became a breakout sensation, in large part due to his tough, no-nonsense attitude and his gripping origin story: Vietnam vet Frank Castle becomes a vigilante after his wife and two children are gunned down by the mob.
What separates the Punisher is that he's willing to kill bad guys, having lost faith in a flawed justice system which allows some bad guys to walk free. I mean, how many times has Batman captured the Joker and had him imprisoned, only for him to escape and wreak havock yet again?
Typical was issue #10 where he and Daredevil were both pursuing the same criminal. The two heroes square off against each other because Daredevil wants the criminal alive to stand trial, and the Punisher wants him dead.
This series is the first ongoing Punisher series. It followed the successful five-issue mini-series, Punisher (1986 series).
Most stories have a gritty, real-life feel, that makes us believe the Punisher's world could really exist. Generally, he battled everyday criminals like drug dealers, terrorists, gangs, assassins, and the mob rather than steroid-enhanced super-powered aliens wanting to take over the planet.
The premise was so popular that Marvel quickly spun off two other series: Punisher: Punisher War Zone (1992 series) and Punisher War Journal (1988 series).
The series also introduced the Microchip, who provided the Punisher with weapons and advanced technology, and later became a solid, recurring villain in other Marvel titles.
Before the current glut of Marvel superhero movies, a Punisher movie bombed. But not even a Hollywood dud could diminish interest in the Punisher and Marvel has pretty much kept publishing Punisher comics for most of the 25+ years since this series began.
Our Army at War
Sgt. Rock was DC's most popular army character for decades. He first appeared in Our Army at War #81 in 1959 and continued through #301 when the series was retitled ...
"Sgt. Rock" in February of 1977 starting with issue #302. Sgt. Rock ran until issue #422 in July of 1988. The run of 342 issues is the longest for any WWII comic book character.
Created by Joe Kubert and Robert Kanigher, Rock was a tough-as-nails master sergeant in the U.S. Army in the European Theatre of Operations during WWII. His tough character, along with realistic story lines created enough interest among readers that his exploits continued for 43 years after the end of WWII. This alone, is amazing.
It means that three generations of readers picked up on his stories over the years. The original market for his exploits included veterans who had fought in WWII. By the end, many of their grandchildren were reading the stories.
This is the series for you if you want to start with a clean slate and not be burdened with 40 years of X-Men background.
With the first X-Men film as his only reference, Mark Millar completely reinvented the X-Men. As a result, if you've seen that movie (and if not, go rent it), you have all the background you need. I love that. After all, who can remember everything that has happened in 500+ issues of Uncanny X-Men.
This alone is a great reason to collect this series, and as a result, it's easy reading. You are not burdened with heaps of X-Men lore from past issues.
Millar's Ultimate X-Men consisted of telepath Professor X, Cyclops, whose eyes shoot concussive beams, telepathic and telekinetic Jean Grey, weather-manipulating Storm, simian genius Beast, metal-skinned Colossus, and cryokinetic Iceman.
In this series, the X-Men have no secret identities, and as mutants, they are mistrusted and hunted. Millar's work is edgy, featuring quick action-driven plots and fewer morality plays. For instance, Wolverine tries to kill Cyclops in "Return of the King" because he is envious of Jean Gray's love.
Millar shaped Ultimate X-Men into a commercial hit, consistently outselling other X-Men titles such as X-Treme X-Men and the original Uncanny X-Men.
After Millar's run, writer Brian Michael Bendis took over. Bendis' run was marked by the death of the Beast.
Brian K. Vaughan, best known at the time for his work on Y: The Last Man, followed Bendis. He re-imagined second-string characters he felt were underused. He introduced Mr. Sinister as a mutant-killing scientist with hypnosis and stealth powers as well as Mojo and Longshot as a corrupt TV producer and a mutant felon.
Ultimate X-Men established itself as a hit, lauded by critics and popular with the fans. And the series is relatively easy to complete since there are only 100 issues, and lots of copies in great condition are easily found.
The Marvels won the Eisner Award for best mini-series of 1994. It told the story of the Marvel Universe from the perspective of news photographer Phil Sheldon, portraying ordinary life in a world full of costumed superheroes. The series helped launch the careers of writer Kurt Busiek and artist Alex Ross, whose cover illustrations are quite spectacular.
Savage Sword of Conan
For fans of Conan the Barbarian, this series is a must. Printed in an over-sized magazine format, the magazine was not subject to the Comics Code Authority. The CCA was formed in the 1950's to monitor the comic book content to eliminate salacious or overly violent comic books.
As a result, the Savage Sword of Conan could present Robert E. Howard's Conan without the Marvel's self-censorship in its 1970 Conan the Barbarian comic book series.
The series was created for an adult audience. The battles are gorier, the ladies sexier and scantily dressed, and the language rougher than its comic book counterpart.
The series is considered a cult classic. With 235 issues, it's one of the longest running magazine-sized comics. The covers are in color, but the interiors are black and white. The size of each page is about 40% larger than a comic book, and frankly, I love the larger format.
If you like Spider-Man comics from the 1970s, then Marvel Team-Up, one of the most under-appreciated comics in Marvel's line-up, should interest you. It teams Spider-Man with a different 'guest star' each issue. As a result, the stories are always original, never get stale, because the guest star appears and is gone. Also, you can read most every issue as a standalone story, without the need to have read the previous issues to understand what's
The series ran for 150 issues over 13 years, a testament to the quality of the series. If the stories had not been compelling, the series would never have lasted that long.
And along the way, Spidey met everyone. And I mean EVERYONE. Guest appearances included the typical Marvel superhero galaxy -- Wolverine (#117) or Iron Man (#48, 49, 110), or Thor (#7, #26), as well as Marvel characters who weren't fighting crime and evil, like Frankenstein (#36) or Werewolf by Night (#12), or even the cast of Saturday Night Live (#74).
In short, the series is entertaining, different, and never slips into tedium.
More importantly, since it wasn't Spider-Man's primary title (Amazing Spider-Man), the people at the Overstreet Price Guide don't value it highly. That's a shame if you're selling it, but it means a big bargain if you're buying it. Most issues after #19 are less than $10 in Very Fine condition, and most of the later issues after #70 are less than $5 in Near Mint- condition.
And of course, like most Spider-Man titles other than the Amazing Spider-Man, issues in great condition remain plentiful and affordable.
Queen & Country
Here's a very good, but often overlooked, comic book series. It's overlooked because it was based on a TV show and comic book adaptations of TV shows generally don't generate as much excitement as stories that first appeared in comic book form.
The series was based on the British ITV series, The Sandbaggers, which ran from 1978 to 1980. The series follows Tara Chance, a member of the Special Operations Section of the British military. What makes the series stand out is that it deals realistically, not only with the dangerous missions, but also with the bureaucracy and politics agents have to contend with.
It won the 2002 Eisner Award as best new comic book series. It ran for 32 issues and was published by Oni. I wonder how much longer it might have run had it been published by Marvel or DC, both of whom could have given the series a much stronger marketing push. In any event, industry professionals thought it was the best new series of the year -- and I agree, it's a good read.
I was leafing through an old World Book Encyclopedia and couldn't find any mention of Uncle Scrooge. So, I surfed over to Wikipedia.org and lo and behold I found a 5,000 word doctoral thesis-like biography of Donald Duck's uncle. It's scholarly in tone, serious in nature, and delves into Uncle Scrooge's motivations, psychology and morals and the reading public's fascination with him.
Wait a second, he's just a funny duck!
I thought he was popular because the stories were light and funny. But, no! To read the Wikipedia treatise, go to Scrooge McDuck
But, you don't need to be concerned that you never considered all the social implications of good old Uncle Scrooge and some overblown psychoanalysis of him. Just pick up a copy and enjoy this wacky old uncle.
Adventures on the Planet of the Apes
If you liked the original Planet of the Apes movies, then you probably will enjoy this series. If you're not a fan, skip it.
The 11 issues adapt the first two Planet of the Apes movies. The stories are full-color reprints of stories from Planet of the Apes (1974 series), the magazine-sized series.
of the Unknown
If you're a fan of Indiana Jones or Jack Kirby, then check out Challengers of the Unknown, one of DC's secondary titles Kirby created a few years before he joined Marvel and created the Fantastic Four.
Reading the series is like traveling back to the golden age of 1950's action-adventure science fiction. The inspirations for the series were the action movies that attracted teenage audiences of the era -- stories about adventurers -- test pilots, mountain climbers, skin divers.
The names of the four team members -- Ace Morgan, Professor Haley, Rocky Davis and Red Ryan -- are the rugged, stereotypical adventurer names of the era.
The four did not have super powers, just super enthusiasm for adventure -- just four rugged individuals -- sort of a cross between Indiana Jones and Mission Impossible.
The series debuted in Showcase #6, with additional stories in #7, 11 and 12. From there, DC put the group in their title. Kirby drew the first dozen adventures, and many consider his work on this series among his best work of the 1950s. He then moved on to create the Fantastic Four.
So, if you enjoy adventures in exotic locales, check out this under-appreciated title. And, since it is unfairly under-appreciated, the prices are less than the headliner hero comics (like Superman and Batman) of the era.
Issues #76 to #80 are reprints of earlier issues.
Before there was a 'Persons with Disability' law in the United States, before the blind were called "vision impaired" and in a time when such persons were sometimes ostracized and shunned, Stan Lee created Daredevil. Coming off his successes with the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Avengers and the X-Men, Lee really hit a homerun with his newest superhero.
The story is a basic theme of literature throughout the ages - someome overcoming great odds to achieve and succeed. In Matt Murdock's case, an accident blinds him, but enhances all his other senses, smell, hearing, etc. So, rather than bemoan his sightless state, he rises above the adversity to achieve incredible success.
Now, I have no idea whether Daredevil had any sort of impact on sightless individuals, but many people have some sort of disability, whether it's a physical, psychological or emotional. I have to believe that Daredevil's ongoing popularity (despite a horrible movie starring Ben Affleck) results from readers relating to a person who has to overcome obstacles every day. Think about every book you've read
or movie you've seen. In most every one, the protagonist has to overcome incredible odds.
So, the genius of Stan Lee is that he created a character where overcoming incredible odds is the norm, day in and day out. And after that, there are the super-villains to contend with.
The series is a good one to collect, because in addition to the great stories, the artwork is superior, especially the artwork by Gene Colan.
And, since the first issue came after Fantastic Four #1, X-Men #1 and Spider-Man #1, the cost of the series is generally less than that of those series. With only 380 issues (as opposed to 441 for Spider-Man), the series is also easier to collect.
World's Finest Comics
If you want to see the editorial difference between comic books from the Silver Age (1956-1969) and those of today, pick up some copies of World's Finest Comics and ...
World's Finest featured Superman and Batman from 1941 to 1986, back in the days when superheroes were always the best of pals. Seems like Batman and Superman went about 30 years without one argument or disagreement. Contrast that with Superman/Batman, where each has an edge and deep psychological scars that often clash with other. Superman/Batman has the interesting feature of "dual-narrators" which presents Superman's and Batman's
opposing takes of each other.
Superman/Batman was immensely popular, often one of the 10 best selling comics each month when first released. The series featured many long novel-length story arcs. Here is a list of the story arcs:
#1-6: Public Enemies
#8-13: The Supergirl from Krypton
#14-18: Absolute Power
#19: Pilot issue for the new Supergirl series.
#20-25: With a Vengeance
#26: Sam Loeb tribute issue
#27: Never Mind
#28-#33: The Enemies Among Us
#34-36: A.I. (the Metal Men)
#44-49: "K" (mission to rid Earth of all Kryptonite)
#50: The Fathers (Superman & Batman's dads met)
#51-52: "Lil Leaguers" (tiny versions of the JLA)
#53-56: Super/Bat- Superman's powers go to Batman
#57-59: Nanopolis (featuring the Prankster).
#62: Sidekicked. Supergirl and Robin (Tim Drake)
#63: Night and Day. (will Gorilla Grodd)
#64: Prelude to the Big Noise
#65: Sweet Dreams (Halloween issue with Luthor)
#66-67: Night of the Cure
#68-71: "the Big Noise"
#79-80: "World's Finest"
#81-84: Sorcerer Kings
#85-87: The Secret
We're big Jack Kirby fans and the Demon is one of his creations from his days at DC comics. It was his first new comic after his now-legendary 4th world epic trilogy of The New Gods, Forever People, and Mister Miracle were cancelled. (By the way, if you haven't read those books, you should. After you do read them, you won't think that George Lucas' Star Wars series is quite as original as you always
In the Demon, the title character, named Etrigan, is a demon from hell who, despite his violent tendencies, usually finds himself allied to the forces of good, mainly because of the alliance between him and
Jason Blood, a human to whom Etrigan is bound. And this is why I love this series. The conflicts between good and evil, and the motivations behind the behavior of Blood/Etrigran are one of the great delights of this series.
As is typical with Kirby creations, Etrigan is physically unique -- a squat, muscular humanoid creature with orange (or yellow) skin, horns, red eyes, and ears resembling bat wings. In contrast, Jason Blood is a tall, thin, suave man with dark red hair and a lined face.
According to Kirby, Etrigan was inspired by a comic strip of Prince Valiant in which the title character dressed as a demon. Kirby gave his creation the same appearance as Valiant's mask.
Etrigan's origin is a vividly creative tale. He is bonded with Jason Blood, a knight in King Arthur's court. The bonding renders Jason immortal. And eventually he winds up in Batman's Gotham City, as a prominent demonologist. (Are there any demonologists who aren't prominent?)
Centuries later, Jason is called to the crypt of Merlin and discovers a poem that when recited, changes him into Etrigan. And yet, even as a demon, the series ongoing conflict is between good and evil. Etrigan both clashes with and occasionally aids Earth's heroes, guided by his own whims and Jason's attempts to turn his power to good use.
Finally, with only 16 issues to collect, you won't spend a decade tracking down every copy.
Before there was a Saturday Night Live, The Onion, or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, there was Mad Magazine.
For two generations of adolescent boys, this was the irreverent, satirical hot spot in the American cultural world.
In a population of 180 million in the 1950's, Mad's circulation topped 1 million copies per month, with a readership of over 3 million.
Its success was widely imitated, but never surpassed in its first 25 years. Sick magazine, Plop!, and Cracked magazine all tried, without success, to come close to the biting satirical wit of Mad. If you ever want to study American culture in the 1950's, 1960's, 1970's or 1980's, back issues of Mad is the place to go for the counter-culture's take on then current events.
Founded in 1952, early issues featured the writing of top comics and comedians from all media. Ernie Kovacs, an early of star of TV, and Bob & Ray, the great radio comedy team, all wrote for Mad, as did Charles Schulz who created 'Peanuts', Jules Feiffer, Wil Eisner, Danny Kay, Stan Freberg, and Sid Caesar. For many years it was THE place to be seen by the elite comedy superstars.
Mad had a near-monopoly stranglehold on political and social satire in the 50's through 70's. In fact, in 2009 The New York Times wrote, "Mad once defined American satire". If you want to understand the roots of American comedy today, Mad really is required reading.
If it was a social issue in America, Mad dissected it with more depth and bite than Saturday Night Live or the Daily Show combined.
For teenagers growing up from 1952 to 1975, it was clearly the most important reading in your life if you were a skeptic, politically or socially aware, or if you wanted a career in comedy.
Looking at any back issue today reminds me of my rebellious teenage years, which many people will say were the best years of their lives. So, if you're looking for a gift for someone who has "everything", transport them back to their youth. I'm telling you, an old Mad Magazine from the time they were 10 to 14 years old, can't be beat.
Or if you're looking for a full perspective of American society from 1952 to today, Mad Magazine is the place to start.
If you're on a budget, you can read reprints of Mad in Mad Specials, Mad Follies and More Trash from Mad, which are all much less expensive than the original Mad Magazines.
Agent of SHIELD in
I frequently get asked, asked, "What's your favorite story line of all time?" So, I sat back and thought about it. It's Strange Tales #135 to #140, which featured the first battle of Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD vs. Hydra.
It was Jack Kirby at his gizmo-creating best, with a super-surprise ending that revealed the identity of the head of Hydra that still astounds me, 50 years later.
These issues appeared in the mid-60s when James Bond first burst onto the big screen and The Man from UNCLE came to TV. So there was lots of competition for the secret agent entertainment dollar. Had today's movie special effects existed back then, this would have been THE hot movie series. But there was no way 1960's special effects could have done justice to Kirby's spectacular vision of high tech weaponry.
Strange Tales started off as a Marvel mystery comic and featured The Thing from the Fantastic Four for a while. Dr. Strange ran from #169 to #183, but it is the Nick Fury series that I always thought was THE star of the book, and issues #135 to #140 were the MVP of the series.
This is the comic book that saved the comic book industry.
The year was 1961 and DC had a virtual monopoly on superhero comics, which have always been the bumper crop for publishers. Superman, Batman, and re-launches of The Flash and Green Lantern, along with Wonder Woman and several second-tier heros. But, all their characters were good guys, and none of their characters had any, well, character. They were good. Through and through.
And then, along came Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's brilliant collaboration, the Fantastic Four. The four squabbled like real people, had villains with good sides and heroes with dark sides. Their characters did things that real people did -- went to the barber shop, went on vacation, nearly went bankrupt. It was a family story in a superhero context.
Yes, the Fantastic Four totally re-energized comics, and was the first title in the "Marvel Age of Comics". The Fantastic Four's success led to everything else in the Marvel family. Without a successful Fantastic Four, there would never have been a Spider-Man, or Iron Man or Captain America or Thor.
The series was the definition of innovative. The characters had no secret identities, they actually lived in New York City, (no "Metropolis" for them), and they fought like siblings...in fact, Sue Storm (the Invisible Girl) and Johnny Storm (the Human Torch), WERE siblings. And they squabbled, just like you did with your siblings.
And bad guys had a good side. In one sequence, which has stayed with me for 40 years, the evil Dr. Doom and Reed Richards are about to blow each other's brains out and the collateral damage would be the destruction of a valuable painting by an old master. Neither Richards or the detestable Doom could bare to see that happen. The result? An agreement to end the fight to save the painting. Great Caesar's Ghost.... there were no characters like
that in DC comics!!!
And, Johnny Storm, a leading star, was a teenager. In DC-land, the teenagers were the sidekicks, Robin to Batman, Speedy to Green Arrow, and Kid Flash to... well, you know.
But here, a teenager was a star. His success bred the other great Marvel teenage star....Spider-Man. If the readers of comics in the 1960s were kids and teenagers, well, why not discuss their problems... like being bullied in school, or an upcoming Chemistry test. Meanwhile, Superman was concerned with how best to camouflage this giant key to his Fortress of Solitude.
And, the Fantastic Four lived in a real city, New York, and Reed Richards was wondering how he could kiss Sue Storm.
The 'reality' of the series was how it intermingled real people reacting to ordinary situations with the bad guys trying to take over the world. Bad guy coming after me? Well, hold on, while I pay the rent.
Today, most every superhero comic has taken this enduring quality from Fantastic Four's original series.
The continuity was staggering. In a day when an artist will sign to draw 12 issues of a series, Kirby and Lee teamed for 102 straight issues. The characters they created, from the Silver Surfer and Galactus to the Inhumans and zillions more populate the Marvel universe to this day.
So, if you're looking for a title with great stories, great art (Kirby and Lee at their pinnacle), the Fantastic Four is the place to do.
It's a relief to pick up an anthology comic book where the only thing you need to concentrate on is the story that you are reading.
That's the beauty of an anthology -- a self-contained story where you don't need to know anything about the characters except what the author is revealing as you read the issue.
And, G.I. Combat was D.C.'s best war anthology comic from 1957 through 1987. Many top artists worked on the series, including Neal Adams and Joe Kubert. The series included stories about WWII early in its run and then switched to Vietnam later.
There were some exceptions to the anthology concept including a series of stories under the titles "The Haunted Tank", and "The Bravos of Vietnam".
The series depicts the state of mind of the American war public relations machine for 30 years. Today, it's interesting to see how the various adversaries are demonized.
Has it been over a decade since the debut of Ultimate Spider-Man? Well, yes it has. The series is a re-imagining of Spider-Man, updated for this century. No longer is Peter Parker a freelance photographer for the Daily Bugle. Instead, he's a webmaster. You get the picture.
The series was so popular when first published, and so unexpectedly so, that the value of issue #1 hit $150 on eBay. Things have cooled off a bit, and the Overstreet Guide now lists #1 for $90. (Careful, there are several versions, including a $3 Free Comic Book Day version).
Artist Mark Baldy and writer Brian Michael Bendis collaborated on the series for a record 111 issues. That run topped the previous Marvel record for an artist/writer team of which had been held for over 45 years by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby on Fantastic Four (1961 series).
What I found interesting was Spider-Man's new origin. In the original version, Stan Lee took 11 pages to tell the story. Blady and Bendis took 180 pages, spanning the first 7 issues.
The series ended after 133 issues when Marvel re-booted the series with a new #1. Because the series is so recent there are lots of Near Mint copies available. And, after the first 7 issues, the cost of a Near Mint- copy is under $10, so it's an affordable series to collect, even in near perfect condition.
Conan the Barbarian
When you get tired of super-heroes flying, or stopping bullets with their teeth, or emitting death rays with their eyes, and you merely yearn for the days when men were men, then this is the comic for you.
Conan the Barbarian (1970 series) is based on the pulp hero created by Robert E. Howard, and he doesn't have invulnerability, he can't turn into a ball of flame and he can't communicate with fish. He's just a guy, a really strong, ferocious guy.
If you were ever stranded alone in the New York City subway at 3 a.m. during the crime-riddled 1970s, he's the guy you'd want at your side.
The continuity of the series is spectacular since Roy Thomas wrote issues #1 to #115. Barry Smith drew issues #1-24 and John Buscema drew most all of issues #25 to #190. Many issues were adapted from stories written by Robert E. Howard, and as a result, the series holds true to the original author's intent.
Like other comics whose run started after 1967, the cost of the set is pretty reasonable. And, since Conan isn't a super-hero in the sense of Spider-Man and Superman, the cost of the books is a bit lower than a comparable set of super-hero issues.
And Hollywood is dusting Conan off for another cinematic comeback. The original Conan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, well, whatever happened to him?
We've been tracking the biggest selling comics at NewKadia for 14 years -- 168 months, and incredible as it may seem, Amazing Spider-Man (1963 series) has been the best selling comic here for 166 of the 168 months.
So, the natural question is: "Why?"
Well, my friends, the answer is pretty easy. It's because the stories and plots of the original series are among the best ever written and drawn.
Starting with the story of the high-school aged Peter Parker, boy-nerd, turning into a super-hero, the basic themes of the character have touched two generations of readers. The early issues, drawn by Steve Ditko, captured the skinny little Parker character just perfectly. This super-hero was so different, in so many ways, the creative blast was overwhelming to readers then, and remains strong even now.
The movie "Spider-Man 2" captured Parker's angst nearly perfectly (and that's why Roger Ebert called it "the best super-hero movie ever filmed"). Even if you took the big action scenes out of the film, the remaining emotional story line -- Parker's inability to relate to girls -- perfectly captured the spirit of the comic book series and the reality of young adulthood.
If you haven't jumped on board the bandwagon, you should. It is groundbreaking, and often imitated. Whenever a super-hero has had self doubts, or a befuddled state of mind, it's a rip off of this series.
Strip away the super-hero theatrics and the series has great love stories (Peter and the ill-fated Gwen Stacy; Peter and Mary Jane), and the never-ending tale of Peter's blaming himself for his uncle's death.
This original series ran for 441 issues, until they re-started the series in 1999 with issue #1. But, 58 issues later Marvel came back to its senses, and starting with issue #500 re-adopted the original numbering system.
So there you have it. if there ever was an "Academy Award" or "Nobel Prize" for the best ongoing series of the past 50 years, this is the winner if the voters are the customers who have spoken with their wallets.
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