Look, Marvel’s Golden Age reprints are this whole other deal which I didn’t get into here.

§ July 31st, 2020 § Filed under marvel, publishing § 13 Comments

Not too long ago I purchased a copy of the above comic for my shopMarvel Super-Heroes #1, from 1966, reprinting what was then a few relatively recent-ish comics from the publisher.

But of course, in 1966, most fans didn’t have the option of strolling on over to ye local comic book emporium to peruse the stacks and fill in gaps in their collections. Not to say there weren’t avenues to find old comics…there were stores here and there that had some, and you could always try mail order, but for the average comic book reader the newsstand was their source, which meant just the latest releases. So, if you had an interest in a particular character and title, and came to the property a tad late, these reprints held a lot of appeal.

Both Marvel and DC cranked out the reprint books throughout the 1960s and 1970s…the work was already paid for, and just sitting around in the archives, why not get it out there again? And it was, perhaps, easier to sell to an audience that tended to refresh every few years, meaning this old stuff was hitting new eyes.

I feel like Marvel’s reprints may have had more of a hook, however. DC’s stories were, by and large, standalone items, where, outside of their out-of-continuity “Imaginary Stories,” all the toys were put back in place by the tale’s conclusion, no matter how scattered or destroyed they may have been during the course of the plot. There were exceptions at DC, of course…the Legion of Super-Heroes springs to mind, and the status quo of Supergirl changing from “Superman’s Secret Weapon” to “Supergirl Reveals Herself” (ahem) is a fairly significant alteration to the premise. But a Superman story is a Superman story is a Superman story…if you read one Superman adventure, you don’t feel like you’ve missed any backstory, any twists or turns or surprising revelations.

In Marvel’s case, their superhero comics had adopted a more soap-operatic strategy. Stan Lee often ballyhooed Marvel’s “illusion of change” in their comics, but the subplots and relationships felt like they built on what came before, that there was forward progress being made with each character as they lived what seemed like, well, not “realistic” lives, but at least suspension-of-believable existences. This made you want to know what had come before, as coming in on issue 34 of, say, Amazing Spider-Man, will make you want to know what happened in the previous 33. You feel like you’ve skipped ahead to the 34th chapter in a book with 33 previous chapters (oh, and a prologue in Amazing Fantasy #15), and who knows how many chapters left to come. (Answer: this is one hell of a long book.)

Thus, the great appeal of Marvel’s reprint lines. You get those early chapters, maybe not in precise order, and not always in the same reprint title, but with some perseverance one could piece together earlier storylines. You could see beginnings of character relationships, early clashes with recurring villains, where those subplots had traveled prior to the more recent installments. Plus, in the 1960s, with Marvel’s new superhero line having only started a few years earlier, filling the gaps back to the beginning and getting the whole story probably seemed somewhat within reach.

The interesting thing is, in the modern marketplace, a lot of those early reprint books remain affordable, especially in lesser conditions. The copy of Marvel Super-Heroes #1 sold for $15, and I had several copies of Marvel Collectors’ Item Classics (don’t forget that apostrophe!) that sold from $1.50 to four or five dollars. Still have fans today trying to fill in those early stories, looking for the foundations on which the Marvel Universe was built. And doing it the old fashioned way…hunting and collecting and piecing it together. Sure, you can buy trades with the stories in order and on nice paper (assuming they’re in print), or even (gasp) digitally…but what’s the fun in that?

13 Responses to “Look, Marvel’s Golden Age reprints are this whole other deal which I didn’t get into here.”

  • Chris says:

    I remember when I first started actively collecting my comical books (rather than just reading and tossing them away) buying a Marvel Tales and not even realising (or caring) that these were reprints. It was just another avenue by which I could read more Spidey.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    Now here is where I really get to play the old-timer card, because I bought this comic new back in 1966. Even though the two longest stories were only two or three years old at that point, they seemed like revelations from some far-distant era. What, Daredevil originally had a yellow costume? The Hulk was one of the original Avengers? Why did no one tell me that before? And that Human Torch/Sub-Mariner story from 1940 just blew my mind.

    A bit of trivia for you: This was intended to be an annual series, replacing MARVEL TALES, which had begun as an annual but which had switched to a bi-monthly rate with its third issue. (MARVEL TALES #2 had reprinted THE AVENGERS #1, so you could say that reprinting THE AVENGERS #2 makes MARVEL SUPER-HEROES #1 really MARVEL TALES #3. You could say that, but no one will care, and you will get some funny looks.) However, there was no second issue, though of course the title was eventually attached to the former FANTASY MASTERPIECES. Some people have therefore claimed that this is the first Marvel one-shot. As best I can tell, they are claiming this purely as an excuse for jacking up the price. “Naw, this is not merely a bunch of reprints that you can find elsewhere with better printing. This is a piece of publishing history! That is surely worth fifty dollars more!”

    There are two obvious problems with the claim, apart from its root in greed. One is that the term “one-shot” should be reserved for something always intended to be just a single issue, not an attempted series that failed to produce a second issue. Second is that, if you ARE going to count aborted series, then the first Marvel one-shot was RED RAVEN COMICS.

  • Thelonious_Nick says:

    “And doing it the old fashioned way…hunting and collecting and piecing it together. Sure, you can buy trades with the stories in order and on nice paper (assuming they’re in print), or even (gasp) digitally…but what’s the fun in that? ”

    For a while in 2006-08, I was buying a lot of comics on Ebay, but I eventually quit when I realized just typing in the next issue of what you need and instantly finding it was robbing a lot of the excitement from the process. It’s better when you search for years until you find that one thing you’ve been looking for!

    Not to mention all the serendipitous discoveries along the way when you actually hunt through the stacks…

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    “Look, Marvel’s Golden Age reprints are this whole other deal which I didn’t get into here.” I am going to use that as an excuse to play club bore awhile longer, and lecture you kids on this situation in the 1960s.

    Obviously, one starts here with FANTASY MASTERPIECES. The first two issues, dated February and April of 1966, were actually super-hero free. They reprinted various science fiction stories from the late ’50s and early ’60s. I do not think there was any actual fantasy here. Maybe the legal department thought “Fantasy Masterpieces” a more easily trademarkable title (there were, after all, several science fiction prose magazines being published at the time). Maybe no one really thought about the difference–DC in this period was edited and written by a bunch of old science fiction nerds, and they might have been strict in distinguishing between the genres, but I doubt that Stan Lee and Martin Goodman cared.

    With the third issue (June 1966), the price was raised from twelve to 25 cents, the page count was increased from 32 to 64, and the monster stories were joined by two early Captain America stories, by the immortal team of Simon and Kirby. I have never seen an explanation for this change. Perhaps it was simply the result of Roy Thomas’s growing influence within the company. Perhaps someone felt the need to get another Captain America comic on the market. The character was starting to appear in the wider world: he was 20% of the “Marvel Super-Heroes” TV show; he was one of Captain Action’s identities (you youngsters may need this explained: Captain Action was a doll–excuse me, action figure–whose main gimmick was that he could be dressed up as other characters); there was an Aurora model kit on the market; he was featured in one of those “Marvel Mini-Books” available from gum machines (which, amazingly, are soon to be reprinted by the art book company Abrams). I would not be surprised if Hollywood was looking at him then; he would probably have been the easiest Marvel super-hero to do in live action at that time. With all that going on, someone may have felt that ten pages a month in TALES OF SUSPENSE was not enough.

    Anyway, there were four issues of FANTASY MASTERPIECES in this format. In the same month that #5 came out, there was also published MARVEL SUPER-HEROES #1, the comic which started this discussion. This reprinted a Human Torch vs. Sub-Mariner story from 1940. This was the first original Torch story to be published in what we will call the modern era. It may have been selected to prepare readers for the next month’s FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #4, which featured a battle between the original Torch and the new one.

    With #7 (February 1967), FANTASY MASTERPIECES changed again. Captain America now shared the title with both the Torch and the Sub-Mariner. The tenth issue gave a little variety by reprinting the first All-Winners Squad story, thus alerting us young readers to the existence of the Whizzer and Miss America. #11 varied the mix further, adding the Black Knight from the 1950s. Also notable about this issue is that the Sub-Mariner story was also, from the first time, from the ’50s. The monster stories, which had been taking progressively less space in the comic, were here reduced to a single seven-page example. Clearly, that aspect was being phased out.

    There was no FANTASY MASTERPIECES #12. What we got, instead, was MARVEL SUPER-HEROES #12, featuring a brand-new character, Captain Marvel. Captain America, the Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner, and the Black Knight were still around, but now all were represented by stories from the ’50s–obviously, because those stories were shorter, five to eight pages rather than ten to fifteen. The only ’40s story was a sample of the Destroyer. He was gone from the next issue, replaced by the Vision. This established that the fifth story was not going to be one regular series, but a sampling of various series. This meant Mercury in #14, Black Marvel in #15, and the Patriot in #16. #17 and #18 abandoned the sampling to reprint the second All-Winners Squad story. #19 moved on to the 1950s, with an appearance by Marvel Boy (who had already been seen in MARVEL TALES #13-16, in 1968). #20 skipped the sampling and instead ran a second Sub-Mariner story. With #21, the title became all reprints, all from the 1960s, with various combinations of the Avengers, the X-Men, Daredevil, and Iron Man.

    And that is story of Marvel’s Golden Age reprints in the 1960s. (Oh, there were also the Captain America, Human Torch, and Sub-Mariner stories included in Jules Feiffer’s book THE GREAT COMIC BOOK HEROES.)

  • Brad says:

    You’re not the only GA bore, Turan. Back in college I was a big fan of DC’s 100-page Giants with Golden Age stories. My roommate didn’t like them because (gasp) those stories were OLD! I mean, seriously, who in the early Seventies even thought about WWII anyway?

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    I will throw in one addendum, and walk away. During the 1960s, DC largely ignored the 1940s. The 80 Page Giants reprinted one original Flash story, one Johnny Quick story, the 1948 story in which Batman tracked down Joe Chill, and two stories from the 1940s Batman newspaper strip (a Mardi Gras story, and the Penguin story that first gave his name as Oswald Cobblepot). There was also the Feiffer book, which included Superman, Batman, Flash, Hawkman, Green Lantern, the Spectre, Wonder Woman, and DC acquisitions Plastic Man and Captain Marvel (though DC allowed only a single page of the latter to be reprinted).

    Of course, come the 1970s, and DC takes the lead, with its 100 Page Super Spectaculars, back-ups during the year when everything was 48 pages, and titles such as SECRET ORIGINS and WANTED. During this period, Marvel instead went all in on the 1950s, reprinting lots and lots of Westerns and horror stories, and even making a try of the jungle heroes.

  • Daniel T says:

    You know how on the internet they say never read the comments?

    This is the one site where you absolutely SHOULD read the comments.

  • Voord 99 says:

    Even though the two longest stories were only two or three years old at that point, they seemed like revelations from some far-distant era.

    I am not old enough to have bought anything in 1966 (seeing as my parents had not met yet). But, still, it is sometimes a weird feeling for me to realize that less than two decades had passed since Fantastic Four #1 when I started reading Marvel comics as a child, and that I was really very close to the beginning when one looks at it from the perspective of 2020.

    Relevance to this topic? One of the things about having to piece together the continuity in the pre-Internet days via reprints and back issues was that it seemed vast, that there was much more of it than there actually was. There seemed to be entire periods in a character’s history, each with its own distinct status quo, that one could imagine went on for years — waiting for you to discover.

    Very often this was illusory. I can remember reading a black-and-white Marvel UK thing at the house of a friend, which had a fragment of a Thor story with Hercules in it. Something about it gave me the impression that Hercules was a regular member of Thor’s supporting cast, and my mind filled in an entire period of Thor comics lasting for years in which that had been the case.

    I do think that part of the secret to Marvel’s appeal, pre-Internet, was that there were always gaps in your knowledge of it, and those gaps were in some ways more enticing as gaps than when you found the comics that would fill them.

  • Donald G says:

    In the Autumn of 1976, I acquired from a school friend his father’s copy of AVENGERS #32, which contained and advertisement for that very issue of MARVEL SUPER-HEROES. Ten years after its publication, I wanted to own a copy of that issue. Almost 46 years after that, I still occasionally have the desire to acquire that reprint, even though I have better quality reprints of the stories reprinted in that issue.

    Just last week, I idly did an eBay search for affordable low to mid grade reader’s copies of that issue. So far, I’ve resisted the temptation to commit, but those very early Marvel reprint titles hold a mystique of their own.

  • Andrew Davison says:

    These reprint magazines were great for their time, but the older material (the 1940’s stories) were very poorly reproduced. For example, compare the Captain America stories in Fantasy Masterpieces with the reprints from a few years back.

  • Andrew-TLA says:

    @Daniel T, it’s been my experience that a website will get the comment section it deserves.

    Now, to add the actual conversation, I think I may have picked up an issue or two of Marvel Tales back in the day, but when I think Marvel reprints my mind goes straight to the Megazines of the nineties. Each Spidey megazine had a Lee/Ditko issue, a couple of Stern/Romita jr.s, and a Marvel Team-Up.

    Marvel Super-Heroes, meanwhile, had a Micheline/Romita jr Iron Man, Byrne FF and Hulk, and Miller Daredevil (except one issue reprinted an extra-sized FF issue, so they replaced Iron Man and DD with Two-in-One #50 for an all-Byrne special).

    $2.95 for 96 pages of the good stuff.

  • Randy Sims says:

    Those early Marvel reprint book covers screamed “Graphics Design Is My PASSION!” but they were a hell of a find for a kid who wanted to see earlier stories. In the mid-’70s I went to my first conventions (STARCON, Larry Herndon’s Star Trek cons in Dallas with lots of great comics in the dealer’s room), and MARVEL COLLECTORS’ ITEM CLASSICS and MARVEL TALES were the things I picked up most. Followed by the East Coast Comix EC reprints. God, that was fun.

  • I didn’t buy Amazing Spider-Man until 122, so I LOVED Marvel Tales. Still, it was great when I discovered mail order, as well as people’s attics with old comic books. I remember scoring Thor 193 with the Silver Surfer and other wonderful items.