Sunday, March 12, 2017

Early Marvel: Fairy Tales and Flying Saucers

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s monster comics were visually similar to and yet thematically opposite of the superhero stories that supplanted them.
In the superhero comics, powerful alien menaces to society were thwarted by superhumans with equally formidable powers. But in the monster stories, those same menaces were usually defeated by ordinary humans using their wits. The stories carried a reassuring implicit message that any clever, courageous person need not shrink from a challenge.
For example, take a favorite of mine, No Human Can Beat Me! from Strange Tales 98 (July 1962). An alien conqueror who might have been mistaken for the Thing or the Hulk defeats human champions at every possible competition — wrestling, feats of strength, chess, mountain climbing. But then an ordinary guy steps up, boasting to the alien that he’s the world’s champion sleeper and once slept for a million years. In a denouement that winks at the reader, the alien promptly announces that he will sleep two million years and drops right off.
With soldiers placed on permanent guard at the cave where the monster is sleeping, ensuring he gets his rest, the narrator returns home, where he has even won the respect of his nagging wife.
“You’re wonderful, wonderful,” she tells him.
“Why fight it, doll?” he replies.
Many of these stories offer a science fiction veneer over what is essentially a fairy tale, where the clever Jacks and Aladdins always manage to outwit the djinn, giants and Rumpelstiltskins.
As in a fairy tale, you can peer into the future between the lines here. This comic appeared on the newsstands in spring 1962, alongside the Fantastic Four’s first battle with Dr. Doom in their fifth issue and a month after the debut of a new title, The Incredible Hulk.
Lee sprinkled the margins of the story with teasers, asking, “Have you seen ‘The Hulk?’” He couldn’t know then that someday, everybody would.

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