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Monday, 27 December 2010

Yesterday's Papers - Marvel Comics

Archive reader, John Taftwell sent me a scan of what was effectively the first ever Marvel comic book - it was actually published by Timely Comics which was founded by Martin Goodman in 1939, though the company would later become the Marvel Comics known today.

The comic's first story is The Human Torch though this is a different character to the Human Torch we know today - the character was not Johnny Storm but actually named Jim Hammond. Created by writer-artist Carl Burgos.The "Human" Torch was actually an android made by scientist Phineas Horton. He possessed the ability to surround himself with fire and control flames. In his earliest appearances, he was portrayed as a science fiction monstrosity, but quickly became a hero.

 See the image left and the character even resembles the Human Torch from The Fantastic Four - this first strip is just a retelling of the Frankenstein story. Firstly The Human Torch is treated with suspicion and the authorities try to destroy him, but the Torch manages to fight off all attempts on his life and he flies off, vowing that no one will ever use him for selfish gain or crime.

It was great fun reading this story and realising that from this basic style of storytelling the mighty Marvel empire developed. The second story featured another character familiar to modern comic book readers Namor The Sub Mariner.

The mutant son of a human sea captain and of a princess of the mythical undersea kingdom of Atlantis, Namor possesses the super-strength and aquatic abilities of the "Homo mermanus" race, as well as the mutant ability of flight, along with other superhuman powers. Through the years, he has been alternately portrayed as a good-natured but short-fused superhero, or a hostile invader seeking vengeance for perceived wrongs that misguided surface-dwellers committed against his kingdom.
Modern character

Next up is Tarzan-alike, Kazar The Great - the character was actually created for the pulp magazine of the 1930's and was adapted for Timely Comics. Born in South Africa in 1918, three-year-old David Rand accompanied his British parents John and Constance on a flight to Cairo to visit his grandfather. Unfortunately, their plane crashed in the jungles of Congo. Constance died in the crash and John was driven mad. Living in the jungle with his father, isolated from the local tribes, David grew under the jungle’s hardships into an unusually powerful youth and developed strong empathy with wildlife, notably rescuing Zar the Lion from quicksand. When a criminal named Paul de Kraft discovered emeralds in Congo, John died opposing him only for Zar to scare Paul de Kraft off. With the support of Zar, David became the jungle's leading warrior within a few years challenging different animals like Bardak the Ape and N'Jaga the Leopard. Considered to be "god-like" by the natives, David Rand ended up named Ka-Zar (native for "Brother of Zar"). When Paul de Kraft returned to seize the emerald deposits, Ka-Zar killed him thus avenging his father.

Next up is the western story, The Masked Raider - it is the story of Jim Gardley who rides a horse called Lightening. And rights wrong wherever he finds them - something of The Lone Ranger there. Indeed The Lone Ranger was a popular radio series at the time of this comic so it seems obvious that this was where the writers took their influence from.

It was great reading this comic - as a kid I grew up reading British comics and although it was the homegrown titles I preferred I did from time to time get titles like The Mighty World of Marvel which featured reprint material from the American comics in the British format - that's how I came to know characters like Spiderman and the Hulk, but most of this early stuff was new to me. And it's good to have what is effectively the first ever Marvel comic even if it is a digital version and not some extremely valuable ancient comic book.

Reprint comics like this introduced many British kids to American superheroes.


Jerry House said...

I had read somewhere (or perhaps I dreamed it) that Mickey Spillane had written some of the early Torch and Submariner stories.


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