Monday, May 19, 2014

FIRESIDE Part 2: Son of Origins

The success of 1974's Origins of Marvel Comics lead to a follow-up volume in 1975. Cleverly named “Son of Origins of Marvel Comics (by Stan Lee)” featured the second wave of Marvel’s 1960s heroes. Roughly all the highlights from 1965-1968. 

The cover went for the “hero pose” dynamic, as opposed to volume 1’s “sprung from the metaphorical hands of God” approach. Jean Gray, Silver Surfer, Daredevil, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Nick Fury, and the Watcher all face off against the sinister 9 year old fascinated by the contents. 

The personal pedigree of this one is a little different than my relationship to volume one. It was interesting, I would flip through it, but the characters on the cover were much more B-list from my 1978-ish point of view. I had never read the X-Men, so Jean Gray, particularly the 60s version, was meaningless. Scarlet Witch didn’t scream Avengers. I had never seen a Daredevil comic. Silver Surfer was something I knew to be beloved but hard to find. Nick Fury popped in and out of the Marvel universe, with SHIELD fighting Godzilla for most of my formative years. I really didn’t like Iron Man. The Watcher was bald and dressed like John Belushi. 

I’ve owned this Fireside books volume twice. A beat down copy I found at Half Price Books about 10 years ago, which I sold in 2009 was my first crack at it. The second, much more gorgeous copy, came in a boxed set with volume 1, which I previously wrote about. In part 1. Obviously. 

I picked the boxed edition up in March 2014 for $35 (coupon!) and could not be happier with the set. The boxed version has random printings stuffed together in a Grandma friendly Birthday package. I have no doubt many of these were under a lot of Christmas trees before Star Wars destroyed literacy. 

My interest in this volume is much higher than it was in the late 70s. Iron Man has never been a favorite outside of the film iterations. However, Daredevil was my favorite Marvel character for the bulk of my teen years. Nick Fury has risen to the top tier of my interests since my 30s started and I finally read the complete Steranko run. Silver Surfer is a beautiful and sublime character when done right. Weirdly, I read more comics with the Watcher between 1980 and 1985 than any other character in this book. He was the lead in What If.. an alternative history comic from Marvel. Essentially, the Watcher was Rod Serling, and took the reader through such gripping tales as “What If.. Phoenix had Not Died, What If… Gwen Stacy Had Not Died, What If…. Elektra had Not Died.. What If.. Marvel Stopped Murdering Strong Women. 

Unlike volume 1 not every character gets 2 stories. The X-Men, at this time still on the cusp of a revival, only get the first issue reprinted. There is no “New X-Men” to mine here. Just Lee and Kirby’s initial war of Homo Superior on Homo Superior violence. 

Iron Man is still rooted solidly in the Viet Nam war in his first appearance. I was explaining to a very attentive 9 year old this weekend that the timeline slid upwards to keep the characters at the same age. I used Iron Man as an example to explain why Slade from the Teen Titans had a Korean wife. Anyway- the Cong here are colored a sickly pale yellow. The war was still wrapping up when volume 1 was being put to bed, so I am sure there was little thought given to adjust the color wheel a notch to lessen the insult of the racist pallet here. Iron Man is only 1 of 2 characters to get a second story outside the debut issue. The second story is drawn by Gene Colon, who also draws the second Daredevil tale. 

The Avengers debut is a fun and silly story, and not as epic as the film. In this one, Hulk is not recruited by the badass super-spy Black Widow he is instead rescued from a circus while found juggling elephants. Freak shows were still going on in 1965, and I guess there is some realism there. For that matter, many of the X-Men villains appeared around this time as part of a side show. Like the X-Men, the Avengers only get one story. odd, as it was a popular book at the time. 

Even more strangely, the cover-featured Scarlet Witch didn’t debut until X-Men 3 or 4, and joined the Avengers in issue 16. She is on the cover, despite being absent from this book. To take this one step further, the slipcase shows Captain America. He is in neither volume contained therein. His first 60s Marvel debut was Avengers 4, which is not reprinted in Origins or Son of Origins. 

Daredevil, AKA lawyer Matt Murdock,  debuts in a colorful circus costume in the first issue of his series. The tale is masterfully drawn by Bill Everett. As much shit as the movie caught, Daredevil is, when it is good, Marvel’s best book. About 12 of the character’s 49 years met that level of excellence. Nearly 25% of the character’s history. Some would even put that number higher. An example of this is the second story “Brother Take My Hand”. It is a two in one combo of proto-ADA and NAACP white liberal guilt filtered through the super hero metaphor. An excellent tale of DD befriending a blind black vet. The moving story is drawn by the always incredible Gene Colon. 

Nick Fury is huge now. He appears everywhere, from film, to cartoons, to live action TV. In the late 60s he was a revitalized version of a war comics character. Redone with a coat of Man From UNCLE colored paint, Nick Fury out bad-assed James Bond. If you have only seen the Marvel movies, you assume he was a Shaft-inspired black man from day one. 

Fury was tough-talking, cigar chomping, rough, gruff, super-spy, one-eye, leather wearing, gadget-having, bad ass mother fucker from day one. He was also white as Wonder Bread. He started out drawn by Kirby, and featured all the spy accoutrement that was due a international secret agent in 1966.  All we get in this book is the first issue. It features a red flying car (Lola to you TV fans) and Life Model Decoys (Patton Oswald’s character) that can sub for you when a death trap is just way too inconvenient for your spying lifestyle. 

As this assemblage of B characters winds down, the Watcher fits in the penultimate slot. His story is so tied in with the Fantastic Four, and he is a character of such Deus Ex Machina that it is tough to perceive him as anything other than a plot device. Lee and Colon attempt to deliver an origin story, and do give him an interesting history. Marvel is reprinting this character’s solo run later in the year, and I can say I am looking forward to getting the whole story. 

The book finishes out with Lee’s personal favorite, the Silver Surfer. The first issue of the comic, already quite collectable in 1975, is reprinted here. It is a double length story, so essentially functions as 2 comics. John Buscema draws Kirby’s creation, and starts off what is Marvel’s second cult book following Ditko's Dr Strange. The Surfer was cancelled after 18 issues, and gained more mystique as a result.

That’s it for the core of Marvel’s 1960s origins. The Fireside line continued on after this, following a couple of different paths. There were two more anthology volumes, covering Villains and Women. From there, solo volume started to be released. The second direction was non-fiction. Puzzle books, how to draw, a fitness tome, and a cookbook were all original works. lastly, and speaking of original works, Kirby and Lee teamed up for the last time on what was one of the very first original graphic novels. 

I’ll be writing about all of these in the weeks ahead. 

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