History of Comic Books: The Silver Age Chapter XVII: School is in Session

Once again, we have another chapter I’ve been waiting to post. The X-Men was a comic book I subscribed to religiously throughout the 80’s and 90’s, so I’m excited (pardon the pun). In creating the X-Men, Stan Lee wondered what if genetic mutations caused super powers to manifest in humans. Using the civil rights movement of the 60’s as inspiration, he created a comic that would parallel both sides of the movement. The original roster consisted of:

Professor X (Professor Charles Xavier): The team’s paraplegic mentor. He possesses telepathy and telekinesis. He has a psychically controlled computer named Cerebro, which detects mutants whose powers have manifested.

Cyclops (Scott Summers): The X-Men’s field leader. He is able to fire concussive energy blasts from his eyes. He wears a protective visor to prevent himself from harming others when not fighting.

Iceman (Bobby Blake): Basically a cold version of the Human Torch, and the team’s youngest member.

Angel (Warren Worthington III): A boy from a wealthy family who has feathery wings growing out of his back.

Beast (Hank McCoy): Unlike his modern counterpart, Hank just has oversized, gorilla-like hands and feet that give him superhuman agility and strength (the blue fur would come later).

Marvel Girl (Jean Grey): A girl whose psychic powers rivaled Professor X.

In the first issue, the team fought Magneto. He was introduced as a former friend of Xavier’s, however he realized humanity would never acceot mutants, so he decided he was superior to them. Issue #3 introduced Xavier’s bullying stepbrother, the Juggernaut. Issue #4 introduced Magneto’s evil counterpart to the X-Men, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, consisting of The Blob, Toad, Mastermind (who would later join the Hellfire Club), and two future Avengers, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch were Magneto’s children, and only sided with him because they felt they owed him for saving their lives.

Issue #14 introduced the Sentinels, an army of giant robots invented by evil anthropologist Bolivar Trask. He even invented a bigger Sentinel named Master-Mold, who created more Sentinels as needed. He later died, and his son Larry vowed revenge.

The Silver Age also introduced the following future teammates: Banshee (#28), Polaris (#60), Sunfire (#64), and Havok. (#65).

The early X-Men have often been compared to the Doom Patrol. Both teams were called the “Strangest Superheroes” ( X-men would add “of all”). Both teams have a paraplegic mentor. Both teams even fought a Brotherhood of Evil, and only one female member. In fact, Doom Patrol co-creator Arnold Drake even wrote for both teams, even though he initially thought the X-Men ripped him off.

Unfortunately, by the 1970 ‘s, X-Men never managed to gain a good enough audience. It spent a few years as a reprint comic, and then in the Bronze Age, writers Len Wein, Chris Claremont, and artist Dave Cockrum were brought on to reboot the comic. But that’s for another time.

Next: Answering the Call

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History of Comic Books: The Silver Age Chapter XVI: Dr. Strange

Strange Tales was the last Marvel anthology to change, and it did by essentially trying to give Johnny Storm his own solo series. In #110, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko teamed up to create Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Strange. Stan Lee was inspired by the radio show Chandu the Magician. However, it wasn’t until four issues later that we saw his origin.

Dr. Stephen Strange was an egotistical doctor, caring only about financial gain. After a car crash, he was unable to use his hands. He met the Ancient One (who in the comics was a Chinese man, not a Celtic woman as depicted in the MCU movie. At first, the sorcerer will not help him, but when Strange foils his assistant Baron Mondo’s attempt to murder him, he sees the goodness within. The early shorts also introduced Clea (his girlfriend), Dormammu (his main antagonist), Kaecilius (who helps Mondo) and Kaluu (another former student of the Ancient One). He also inherited the Eye of Agamatto and an assistant named Wong. Ditko gave the series a surreal landscape that made it more popular. In #168, Strange Tales transitioned into Dr. Strange’s first solo series, lasting 15 issues.

Dr. Strange would eventually return to his own title in the 1970’s. He also formed the Defenders.

Next: School is in Session

The History of Comic Books Chapter XV: Strange Spies

I have a poster of Marvel characters on my wall that has one character who would make people who only know the MCU version of Marvel scratch their heads. They’d look at it and say “Wait, I thought Nick Fury was Black. Who’s this Nick Fury?” Well, I’ll tell you .

War comics were still around, despite the restrictions of the Comics Code. In 1959, DC started Our Army at War, later to be known as Sgt. Rock. Sgt. Fury & His Howling Commandos could be seen as Marvel’s answer to Sgt. Rock.

Sgt. Fury was actually a bet with publisher Martin Goodman that he could make even the worst title ever sell. “Howling Commandos” was actually inspired by the 101st Airborne Division (aka the “Screaming Eagles”. The Commandos consisted of:

Col. “Dum Dum” Dugan: Fury’s ” number one “, a former circus strongman.

Pvt. Izzy Cohen: the team’s mechanic

Pvt. Gabriel Jones: Marvel’s first African-American character.

Pvt. Juniper: the first person to die in a Marvel comic, to show that anyone could die.

Pvt. Eric Koenig: Nazi defector who joined in #27.

Pvt. Pinkerton: Juniper’s replacement.

Pvt. Manelli: a former actor modelled after Dean Martin (he’s even introduced as someone you’d recognize from a movie).

Pvt. Ralston: a former jockey.

The comic lasted 167 issues (but became a reprint comic beginning with #80), ending in 1981. But in 1965, we got to see what Nick was doing in the present day. In Strange Tales #135, he replaced the Human Torch to become its main feature, and the character who would make Jim Steranko one of Marvel’s most celebrated artists, thanks to his surreal art style. Inspired by James Bond, Fury was now a Colonel heading SHIELD (Strategic Headquarters International Law-Enforcement Division). Now instead of fighting Nazis, he was fighting Hydra, the Cold War successor. The story also introduced Life Model Decoys, android duplicates that would often stand in for actual agents. He was the main feature until #168, after which he spun off into his second title, Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD. However, Steranko was unable to make deadlines for the longer stories, and left after the fifth issue.

Despite only lasting 18 issues (three of which were reprints), Nick Fury would continue to be an enduring example of a bygone era. You just can’t keep a good soldier down.

The History of Comic Books Chapter XIV: Iron Man

When Stan Lee created Iron Man, he wanted to challenge himself. He wanted to create someone who embodied everything hippies hated about capitalism, and yet they’d still root for him. That’s a perfect description for Tony Stark.

When Iron Man debuted in Tales of Suspense #39, his armor was much bulkier than it is now. I saw those early issues and I was always saying “How is he supposed to move?” We have Steve Ditko to thank for the more streamlined suit ( which was in Tales of Suspense #48.

Iron Man’s origin is actually somewhat different from the first movie. Obadiah Stane was introduced in 1982. James Rhodes was introduced in 1979. The earliest villain was the Crimson Dynamo (who’s one half of the inspiration for the movie version of Whiplash.), introduced in Tales of Suspense #46. The earliest supporting characters were actually Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts, both introduced in #45. His butler, Edwin Jarvis, was introduced in #59. (The inspiration for the JARVIS AI in the movies)

Another prominent enemy is the Mandarin. A rather problematic character, the Mandarin has actually been redrawn in looks, mostly to reduce his offensiveness as a Chinese villain. His powers come from the rings he wears on each finger. Tales of Suspense also introduced two future Avengers as villains: Black Widow and Hawkeye.

Iron Man became another founding member of the Avengers, months after his first appearance. He was given his own comic, The Invincible Iron Man, in 1968. Before then, he’d share Tales of Suspense with Captain America.

Next: Strange Spies