Tuesday, June 21, 2016


Today’s bloggy thing continues my 136-part series on comic books that hit the newsstands in the month of July 1963. That month was pivotal to my comic-book career because it was the month when Fantastic Four Annual #1 ignited my desire to write comics. Today’s addition to the series is running out of sequence on account of I accidentally skipped over it. For the retentive among you - and I am one of you - it should’ve run between Alvin #5 and Aquaman #11.

Amazing Spider-Man #5 [October, 1963] is one of the mere 15 Marvel Comics titles that came out in this pivotal month.  Nine of those issues were super-hero comics, one was a western, one a war comic and the rest “girl’ comics: Modeling with Millie, Patsy Walker, Patsy and Hedy and the 1963 Patsy and Hedy Annual.

This is the month Amazing Spider-Man goes monthly and he goes mano-a-mano with Doctor Doom.  It’s the month when The Avengers and The X-Men have their debut issues. The Fantastic Four meet Rama-Tut and have their first annual. Thor faces Merlin for the first and last time. The Human Torch, Iron Man, and Ant-Man battle, respectively, the Plantman, the Crimson Dynamo and the Porcupine. In a clever bit of continuity that would become problematic a couple decades later, Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos #3 featured a guest appearance by a young Reed Richards, who, as Mister Fantastic, would become the leader of the Fantastic Four.

It was an exciting time to be a Marvel fan, but the only one of the  issues I bought off the stands was the Fantastic Four Annual.  In retrospect, it took me a few months to shift my allegiance from DC to Marvel.  I didn’t buy my first issue of Amazing Spider-Man until #9 [February 1964].  However, once I was well and truly hooked, it didn’t take long for me to buy (via mail order) or trade for these and other back issues.

The cover of Amazing Spider-Man #5 was penciled and inked by Steve Ditko. His style and storytelling skills grabbed me from the start and, for several years, Ditko was my favorite Marvel artist, even over Jack Kirby. Though the issue’s cover logo reads “The Amazing Spider-Man,” the indicia lists the title as “Amazing Spider-Man.” The title is said to be published by Non-Pareil Publishing Corp., one of a number of companies listed in the Marvel indicia of that time. Since I don’t want to get into the “why” and “what the heck” of this “whatever it was,” your homework assignment for the night is to learn all about it on the Internet. Extra credit if you find a website that has both this information and adorable kittens doing adorable things.

The inside front cover is a full-page ad for Mike Marvel’s “secret new Dynaflex method,” which he claimed “can build you a magnificent new he-man muscled body in just ten minutes a day.” I would’ve paid it no mind back in 1963, but, looking at it in 2016, I wondered if “Mike Marvel” was for real and not just a knock-off of the Charles Atlas ads of the era. I wondered if “Mike Marvel” was just the name used in Marvel comic-book advertisements. Maybe there was a “Chuck Charlton” at another comic-book company.

Doing a search, I found Mike Peterson’s World of Physical Culture,  which had this to say:

Mike Marvel’s Dynaflex course was popular from the early 1960s to the mid-1980s, and was the first course to teach Isometric Power Flex Contractions—which are featured in John Peterson’s own Isometric Power Revolution.

Often compared to the Charles Atlas course in terms of its advertising style, the Mike Marvel’s Dynaflex course did contain some of the Dynamic Self-Resistance exercises or Power calisthenics that Charles Atlas taught.

Nonetheless, the Dynaflex course provided a great workout with a distinct twist on Isometrics that was later repackaged and promoted by Mike Dayton in his “Chi Mind Control” course.

Mike Marvel was probably not the bodybuilder’s given name, but he was apparently for real and his method wasn’t without benefits. The whole kit cost $1.98 and it included a free copy of the “Secrets of Attracting Girls.”

“Marked for Destruction by Dr. Doom!” (21 pages) was, according to the credits, written by Stan Lee, drawn by Ditko with lettering by Sam Rosen. Because I was not in the room when this tale was created by Lee and Ditko, I will make no assumption as to how the tale was created. Did Stan write an actual plot? Did he and Ditko work out the plot verbally? I don’t know and, quite frankly, neither do you unless you’re Stan or Steve.  Maybe not even then.  For this comic book and the other Marvel comics of the era, I’m going to go with the published credits.

Since this story has been reprinted a dozen or more times, I’m not going to present my usual blow-by-blow recounting. The Grand Comics Database has this synopsis:

Dr. Doom tries to trick Spider-Man into helping him defeat the Fantastic Four. When Spider-Man turns him down, he decides to capture Spider-Man. Flash Thompson dresses up as Spider-Man for a prank and Dr. Doom mistakes him for the real Spider-Man and captures him instead, and Flash has to be saved by the real Spider-Man.

Lee and Ditko always included action, character moments, drama, and humor in their collaborations. Doctor Doom isn’t as imposing as he would become in later years - that he was the ruler of Latveria had yet to be revealed - but he challenges Spider-Man with lethal device after lethal device over the course of the story. The wall-crawler is lucky to escape from their first encounter and, though he fares better in the second, it’s the appearance of the Fantastic Four that causes Doom to retreat from the battle.

Peter Parker is very human in this tale. When he learns high-school bully Flash Thompson was captured by Doom while wearing a Spider-Man costume, he’s sort of happy about it for a beat. Of course, he then realizes he has to rescue Flash. In other human moments, Peter pokes the bear that is Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson and reads quite a bit into a few kind words from Betty Brant, Jonah’s secretary.

Spidey’s supporting cast is kind of sort of realistic in a comic-book way. Jameson claims he’s attacking Spidey because the attacks sell newspapers. Aunt May is a lovable worry wart who treats her nephew Peter like a child. Parker’s fellow high-school students are eager to follow their leader no matter how much of an idiot their leader might be.  Speaking of Flash Thompson...

He’s a bully whose cowardice is exposed when he’s captured by Doom. But, in typical fashion, the tale he tells after he’s been rescued paints himself in a much more heroic light. It’s as I’ve said many times...we’re all the heroes of our own stories.

The Fantastic Four are enough of a presence in the story to make it clear they live in the same world as Spider-Man. However, they are used so sparingly they steal none of Spidey’s thunder.

Then and now, “Marked for Destruction by Dr. Doom!” is a terrific story. Stan’s writing is amazing and so is Ditko’s art. It’s very sad their creative partnership would come to such a bad end a few years later.

Looking through the issue for the first time in decades, it’s clear Marvel books were not as attractive to advertisers as DC’s titles. Even the ads look cheap.

Centre Coin Company would give you a free Lincoln Penny album with any purchase from $1 to $4.50. You could record your own voice at home for $6.98. Lifeland Coin Company would give you a free coin catalog while the Bargain Company would seel you “Instant Live Sea Animals” (brine shrimp) for a dollar.

“Mother Hubbard” was offering 10 king-size latex toys for a buck. These inflatable ranged from a foot to almost three free in height and featured “America’s most beloved characters from Walt Disney’s Wonderful World.” Best Values Company offered a reward of $11,750 for a coin and, for a dollar, they would send you their catalog of coin prices.

Western World Products would sell you “Grog,” a dinosaur who could grow his own plant-tail, for a buck and a quarter. Grit told boys they could make $1 to $5 weekly in their spare time by selling the newspaper. Apparently, girls were excluded.

Next in this issue was a full-page house ad for Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandoes #3. The blurbs are classic: First, the Fantastic Four! And now, in the same inimitable style, by the same writer and artist...another group of fabulous characters!

And: Battle Action!! Fighting Men!! As only the Marvel Comics Group can present them!

The next page of paid advertising offers stamps and novelties. The page has 35 tiny ads of the type that used to be the pain in Tony’s editorial ass when I was working on Marvel’s black-and-white mags of the 1970s. By then, the largely useless ad agency would sell an one-sixteenth-of-a-page ad and expect editorial to fill the rest of the page with house ads and public service messages.  These people were the same ones who tried to convince Roy Thomas that we should have paid advertising on the full page of every Marvel comic book.

Following the Spider-Man adventure, we get a full-page house ad for  Fantastic Four Annual #1, Strange Tales Annual #2 (teaming Spider-Man with the Human Torch) and X-Men #1. All that is shown of that last title is its logo.

Stan Lee knew the value of making readers feel like they were part of the company. Marvel’s letters page, along with those published in the DC comic books edited by Julius Schwartz, were the building blocks of comics fandom.

The “Spider’s Web” letters column ran two pages and featured eight letters from readers and a “Special Announcement Section” to close out the column. I’ll get to that section in a bit.

Richard Cohen of Brooklyn, New York concludes that “Dr. Octopus is the most original villain I’ve seen in my four years of comics reading.” He then goes on to criticize Marvel for having too many atomic scientist villains, too many words in the captions, villains using formal language and heroes “giving the inexperienced reader the impression that they are inhuman roughnecks.” Just imagine what he would have written if he didn’t like the comics!

Dan Fleming of Ottawa, Kansas, also liked Amazing Spider-Man #3. He would prefer two stories per issue.

Paul Moslander of San Mateo, California loves the comic, hates how Ditko draws feet.

Richard Jankowski of Dunkirk, New York thinks Doctor Octopus is a terrific villain. Sid Wright of Worchester, Massachusetts has high praise for Amazing Spider-Man #1, Fantastic Four #12 and Strange Tales #106.

The next letter is from Steve Perrin of Santa Barbara, California. Perrin was a founding father of comics fandom, a prolific fanzine contributor, the writer of the role-playing game Runequest and is active in gaming and comic books.  In his letter, he expresses his preference for gimmick villains like the Vulture.

Cory Reed of Johnstown, Pennsylvania wants a regular page listing on-sale dates for coming issues. Avid super-hero fan Dave Coleman of Rochester, New York, opines that Spider-Man is the best of all costumed heroes.

In the “Special Announcement Section”:

Spider-Man is guest-starring in both the Fantastic Four and Strange Tales annuals. The first issues of X-Men and Avengers are plugged. There are also plugs for Fantastic Four #19, Tales of Suspense #46 (Iron Man), Tales to Astonish #48 (Ant-Man/Wasp) and Journey into Mystery #96 (Thor).

The last of the four items:

A final word from Stan and Steve:

We want to thank you for making Spider-Man the smash success of the year! We promise to do our best to continue to merit your loyalty and to keep Spider-Man the greatest, most original, most exciting super-hero of all!

An editor’s note at the bottom of the column says Amazing Spider-Man #6 will go on sale approximately August 8.

There are three more interior pages of paid advertising following the letters column. If you give Palmer-Jones Publishing one evening and $1.98 (refundable if you’re not satisfied), you can be taught to hypnotize people.

Commercial Trades Institute has an “Amazing New Home Training Plan in Auto Repairing” and will send you free brochures. Of, for just $1.25, you could buy 100 Toy Soldiers, made of durable plastic on their own bases and that measure up to four-and-a-half inches tall.

The back cover is the familiar Wallace-Brown pitch to make money by selling their Christmas cards. These folks were all over the comics map in 1963. I don’t know if anyone ever made any real money from selling the cards, but they’re now considered vintage collectibles. It doesn’t appear the company is still in business.

Before closing today’s bloggy thing, I want to give a shout-out to Tim Hartin and Brent Frankenhoff for supplying with the non-Marvel pages of Spider-Man #5. I’m pleased to award them the honorary rank of B.B.B. (Boisterous Bloggy Buddies). If you see either of them at a convention, give them a snappy salute.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

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