The first of the Giants makes his entrance.
For a little more than three years, from January 1959 (these are cover dates) to February 1963, there existed the Marvel Age of Monsters. Five titles are involved, all featuring a giant creature cover and it’s accompanying story. The books, at first, contained the cover tale and three non-monster backups. After a while, the creature yarn grew longer (no pun intended) and the backups reduced to two.
Strange Stories (SS) debuted in June 1951, with the Monsters starting in issue #70 (Aug ’57)and running thru #100 (Sept ’63)
Journey into Mystery (JiM) began June 1952 with monsters from #53 (Jul ’59) thru #82 (Jul ’62).
Tales of Suspense (ToS) started January 1959 with a cover showing spacemen on another planet chased by a large lizard-like alien (a great Don Heck cover). However, the creatures didn’t start rolling until Issue #5 (Sept ’59) and kept going to #38 (Feb ’63).
Tales to Astonish (TtA). The beasties hit the ground running here, from #1 (Jan 59) to #34 (Aug ’61).
Amazing Adventures (AA). A short-lived series with Monsters in all issues from #1 (Jun ’61) to #6 (Nov ’61).
Partly inspired by the sci-fi movies of the Fifties, but mostly by the Comics Code’s banning of such horror staples as vampires, zombies, and werewolves, Marvel served up an assortment of giant monstrosities wreaking havoc. The line-up includes robots, insects, living statues, mum-mies, aliens, things ape-like and things reptile-like. Some of the names (I’m not making these up, Stan Lee did) are Shagg, Gruto – the Creature from Nowhere, Grog, Bombo, Snagg (no relation to Shagg), Orgo, The Blip, and many others. There’s even a few with no name at all.
Several beasts stand out:
The Hulk, after his revival, and before the depilatory treatments.
The Hulk (JiM #62), who, as you can see, bears little resemblance to his later namesake, is an alien who crashes on Earth. A mad electrician (they can’t all be scientists) revives him.The Hulk hypnotizes everyone on Earth and forces them to build him a new ship with the intention of both escaping Earth and destroying it. The electrician foils the plan when he sabotages the vessel, sending it into orbit around the Sun. The Hulk returned (JiM #66) to get revenge, but was, of course, once again defeated. Using the name Xemnu the Titan he kept coming back, only to twice get beaten up by the big green Hulk we all know and love (Marvel Features #3 Jun ’72 & The Defenders #12 Feb ’74).
Next, comes Groot, a living tree (TtA #13 Nov ’60), billed as ‘The Monster from Planet X’, who, in his first appearance, is defeated by (brace yourselves) termites. After treatment by Terminex (just kidding), Groot pops up a few more times before joining the Guardians of the
Galaxy. As you can see from the above cover, he’s already practicing his dialogue for the movie.
Fin brings the house down in his first appearance.
Perhaps the most famous of all these is Fin Fang Foom (ST #89 Nov ’61), who resembles a Chinese dragon. Since his debut, he’s made numerous appearances in the Marvel Universe, especially as a foe of Iron Man. The first story, set in China, has him being awakened from centuries long sleep to help foil a Communist invasion of Taiwan. His history is way too long and convoluted to relate here, but this passage from Wikipedia is irresistible:
“With the other members of the Makluan crew dead, Fin Fang Foom decides to reform and becomes a follower of Buddhism. Entering into a rehabilitation program with three other monsters – the robot Elektro, the giant ape Gorgilla, and the alien Googam – Foom is shrunk down to human size, hypnotically stripped of all powers and allowed to enter human society. Fin Fang Foom becomes head chef in a Chinese restaurant within the Baxter Building and teams with the other monsters to defeat the size-changing warlord Tim Boo Ba. Fin Fang Foom begrudgingly aids Wong (the servant of Doctor Strange) in defeating a force of HYDRA agents.”
All of this Monster Mayhem was orchestrated by Stan Lee, who did the plotting, and Larry Lieber, who did the scripting. The frequently spectacular artwork is mostly by Jack Kirby (pencils) and Steve Ditko or Dick Ayers (inks) with the great Don Heck occasionally contributing a complete job.
Lee’s plots aren’t half bad despite the formula they fell into as the Age went on. His cover dialogue, for those that have some, is priceless though. I suppose it can be tough thinking of something for a character staring down the mandibles of Krang, the giant red ant, to say (other than just hysterical screaming), but Stan gives it his best. Other fine examples are:
“Evacuate the city!! Run for your lives!! X still lives!!” (TtA #20 Jun ’61)
“Mankind is doomed!! Gomdullah walks again!’ (JiM #61 Oct ’60)
“Look! Behind us! We’re doomed! It’s Diablo!” (ToS #9 May ’60)
“There’s no place to run! No place to turn! Googam is everywhere!” (ToS #`17 May ’61)*
*Note: Googam is not the inventor of Goo Gone.
Stan must have worn down the exclamation mark key on his typewriter.
New York is doomed … or is it?
At this point I’d like to air a personal grievance. I was nine when all this started and couldn’t be expected to not judge a book by it’s cover (it usually takes to age 40). So, I’d pick up an issue, such as the one pictured above, and run home expecting to read a tale filled with mass destruction (nobody could draw flying debris like Kirby). Well, guess what? Titano doesn’t emerge in New York harbor, he surfaces in the South Pacific, where he scuttles across several islands, scaring the natives and attracting the attention of the US Navy who dispatch a ship to deal with him. There’s other examples of this, and it was somewhat disheartening at the time.
What brought an end to the Age of Monsters was the beginning of the Age of Superheroes; The Fantastic Four and the angst-ridden Spiderman showed the way to the future. The Human Torch lit up Strange Tales starting with #101 (Oct ’62) with Doctor Strange materializing in #110.
Thor hammered his way into Journey into Mystery #83 (Aug ’62) and Iron Man took over Tales of Suspense with #38 (Feb ’63). Ant Man crept into Tales to Astonish #38 (Sept ’62), though his origin was in #27 (‘The Man in the Ant Hill’).
Below, on the last cover of the Marvel Age of Monsters, the teen with a genie waves goodbye.