Aware of the newly emerging, nostalgia-driven comic book collector’s market, Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Stan Lee was quick to capitalize on it with 25-giant giant reprint titles like Marvel Tales (1964), Marvel Collector’s Item Classics (1965), Fantasy Masterpieces (1966) and Marvel Super Heroes (1966).
Because the whole “Marvel universe” had begun in 1961 with The Fantastic Four, Lee was reprinting “classics” that were then only about three years old. But the ever-expanding popularity of Marvel meant there were already plenty of fans who’d never read those earliest issues.
DC Comics had discovered the popularity of superhero reprints with the first Superman Annual (1960), the first Batman Annual (1961) and Secret Origins (1961). But despite the new collectors’ market, DC was reluctant to reprint material from the 1930s and 1940s, fearing it would appear artistically “crude.”
Lee, on the other hand, embraced the Timely Comics roots of his universe, quickly reprinting the earliest Captain America stories — including his own first story for comics, written when he was still a teenager (the two-page text piece Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge from Captain America Comics 3, May 1941) — and the famed first clash of the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch from Marvel Mystery Comics in 1940.
Reading that tale, Marvel fans discovered that the company’s trigger-happy heroes had been introducing themselves to each other with slugfests from the very beginning.