I've been thinking for a while of doing some reviews of pre-Silver Age features, covering their whole runs or periods within their runs. "Pre-Silver Age Reviews" reviews would be a clumsy title for a thread, so I've titled it "Golden Age Reviews" instead, although I'll be including features from the 50s.

 

I've done a couple of reviews along these lines previously in the "What Comic Books Have You Read Today?" thread, so I'll start by reposting those.

15/05/15 I've changed the title to "Golden Age and Transition Era Feature Reviews", as I've started another thread, here, for issue reviews.

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Regarding the early Spider-Man short stories:

from Amazing Fantasy #15 "Spider-Man" (origin)
from Amazing Spider-Man #1 "Spider-Man, Freak! Public Menace!" and "Spider-Man vs. the Chameleon!"
from Amazing Spider-Man #2 "Duel to the Death with the Vulture!" and "The Uncanny Threat of the Terrible Tinkerer!"
from Amazing Spider-Man #8 "The Terrible Threat of the Living Brain" and "Spider-Man Tackles the Torch!"

Since these stories were all free-standing, IMO Spider-Man was intended to occupy half of Amazing Fantasy following the lead of the Ant-Man and Thor features rather than starting as his own title like the Hulk. Is it possible that they originally intended the Hulk to be in Tales of Suspense instead of his own title?

"Spider-Man, Freak! Public Menace!" was obviously intended for Amazing Fantasy #16 as it recaps his origin, strangely omitting his own part in Uncle Ben's death. This story introduces JJJ.

"The Uncanny Threat of the Terrible Tinkerer!" has no mention of his camera. Once he knew he was fighting aliens I would think he would have taken pictures. OTOH, once he knows what he's dealing with aliens things move too fast even if he had the camera. In tone it seems like it would have been Amazing Fantasy #17.

"Spider-Man vs. the Chameleon!" does feel like Amazing Fantasy #18. It features the first villain with staying power and a guest appearance of the Fantastic Four. Peter thinks he can make money by joining the FF. No talk of taking pictures for money.

"Duel to the Death with the Vulture!" has Aunt May giving Peter a "miniature camera" as big his hand. In 1962 that probably was miniature. Peter thinks to himself later that he will buy a "special miniature camera" to attach to his belt after he gets paid for the first set of Vulture pictures. I think this was intended for Amazing Fantasy #19. This first true supervillain leads into the rapid-fire supervillains of the following Amazing Spider-Man comics.

The exception seems to be Amazing Spider-Man #8. In tone "The Terrible Threat of the Living Brain" seems like an Amazing Fantasy story and "Spider-Man Tackles the Torch!" is an out-of-character piece with no Peter Parker appearance and an arrogant Spidey. The only reason I don't peg "Living Brain" as an inventory story is that it features Peter breaking his glasses, which are never seen again. Oddly, none of his teachers or classmates wonder why he suddenly doesn't need glasses.

Occasionally I see references on the Board to "job numbers." I don't know where this information is but I would think the job number sequence wouldn't necessarily correlate to issue numbers, especially if they had several stories prepared.

On the page here the job number is on the bottom right (x-639). I don't know if they can always be found in the stories.

I think the different lengths of the first five stories - 11, 14, 10, 14, 10 - tells against their all having been created for the same slot, and it's unlikely Goodman let Lee work that far ahead. "Thor" was 13 pages up to Journey into Mystery #104 except for the fifth instalment in #87, which was 10. The opening instalments of "Ant-Man" and "The Human Torch" were 13 too. With the fourth instalment "Ant-Man" dropped to 10 or 11 for four issues before going back to 13. The introduction of the Wasp in Tales to Astonish #44 and the Captain America try-out in Strange Tales #114 were 18.

It's true that all but one of the first several Thor stories were 13 pages. I think 13 pages was their ideal length. Looking at Tales to Astonish, the Ant-Man/Giant-Man stories had about half of the early stories at 13 pages but the other half were either 10, 11 or 18 pages. In the case of Amazing Fantasy, had it continued, Ditko was the sole plotter/artist. He could easily have varied the length of the Spider-Man stories and their back-up stories as he saw fit.

The Thor and Ant-Man drops to 10 pages might reflect a lack of faith in the features, or it might be that was all Kirby could do given his workload. I can't account for the one-off 11 page Ant-Man. The 18 page stories were probably seen as important ones. I think I revised my post after you saw it; my apologies.

Addendum: The last 10 page Ant-Man was the first Don Heck one. But it's one of Lieber's so it was possibly written full script, and that could mean the length was decided before Heck replaced Kirby as the feature's artist.

Stan said AF#15 that some future issues might "even have two Spider-Man stories."

They might have briefly dropped to ten pages because they were planning something that never happened so they went back to 13 pages when it was called off.

 

Is it possible Ant-Man was such a loser they were thinking of replacing him with Hulk that far back, thus why Hulk ended up in Tales to Astonish instead of the one series that didn't have a superhero? Ant-Man's the only one that got saddled with a sidekick, and the only one that tossed out his original name and costume to become somebody else. Anything to get him to work, and nothing did. Since Tales of Suspense sat empty for such a long time it might have been planned briefly that Spider-Man would step into it with Amazing Fantasy gone, but somehow he got the green light to get his own comic. Iron Man debuted the same month Spidey got his own series. Perhaps because once they knew Spidey wasn't going to be in ToS they decided they needed to put somebody in there? Would Iron Man have ended up like Wyatt Wingfoot and Coal Tiger if Spidey had gotten Tos?

 

Here's Comichron's information on the statements of ownership paid circulation figures for the anthology titles to 1966, when Journey into Mystery became Thor. The period covered by the figures must partly overlap the previous year, because final sales figures took time to come in and they didn't usually appear right at the end of the year, but by how much I don't know. New titles didn't have to report for a couple of years. Month information from DC Indexes.

1960

Tales to Astonish 163,156

Tales of Suspense 148,929

1961

Tales to Astonish 184,895

Tales of Suspense 184,635

1962 ("Thor" and "Ant-Man" start June; Spider-Man debuts June; "The Human Torch" starts July; "Iron Man" and Amazing Spider-Man start Dec.)

Tales to Astonish 139,167

Strange Tales 136,637

Journey into Mystery 132,113

Tales of Suspense 126,140

1963 ("Dr Strange" starts April [but skips June and July]; "Giant-Man", Lee's run as "Thor" scripter, and "Tales of Asgard" start Aug.; Kirby's long run on "Thor" starts Dec.)

Tales to Astonish 189,390

Strange Tales 189,305

Tales of Suspense 188,110

Journey into Mystery 187,895

1964 (the TTA "Incredible Hulk" starts Jul.; "Captain America" starts Aug.)

Strange Tales 215,090

Tales to Astonish 207,365

Tales of Suspense 207,065

Journey into Mystery 205,075

1965 ("Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." and "Sub-Mariner" start May)

Journey into Mystery 232,644

Strange Tales 230,285

Tales to Astonish 224,346

Tales of Suspense 222,060

1966 (JiM renamed Thor Jan.)

[Thor 296,251]

Strange Tales 261,069

Tales to Astonish 256,145

Tales of Suspense 252,239

Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense only went monthly in the course of 1960, so their 1960 average sales may not be directly comparable to their 1961 ones. Journey into Mystery and Strange Tales went monthly either at the same time or just after Tales to Astonish, Tales of Suspense went monthly a few months later.

The question is, what was the thinking behind what went in which title? I was surprised the lowest-selling monster anthology was the last to get a superhero. But I suppose it would be logical to put the feature you had the most faith in into the best-selling title, to give it the best chance of succeeding. Goodman and Lee may have had different ideas as to which that was, but I can believe (leaving aside Lee's belief in "Spider-Man", which Goodman didn't share) they had the highest hopes for Ant-Man because of his unusual character and interesting gimmicks. Also, it may be the sales of Tales to Astonish #27, with "The Man in the Ant Hill!", were good.

Maybe Tales of Suspense didn't get a superhero feature until Dec. because Goodman or Lee didn't think they had a good enough idea for it earlier. Its sales drop from 1961 to 1962 could mean it was facing cancellation; its 1962 figure was behind Gunsmoke Western's (126,475), which was cancelled in 1963. But that may be an apples and oranges comparison, as Gunsmoke Western was a bimonthly.

I doubt the introduction of the superhero features is the reason the 1962 figures for the two Tales titles were so much lower than their 1961 ones, as "Iron Man" only started at the very end of the year and the period covered by the report must partly include months before "Ant-Man" started, and perhaps more of them.

Kirby's return to "Thor" shows up in the 1965 figure, when Journey into Mystery went from being the lowest-selling of the former anthologies to the highest.

I'm surprised to learn that Strange Tales outsold the other former anthologies in the year covered by the 1964 reports. That could be due to the popularity of Fantastic Four. Yet Lee was willing to replace the Torch and Thing feature in 1965. Strange Tales was slower than the other split-books to start regularly alternating the covers between its two features, and that might be an indication that Lee thought "Dr Strange" had less popular appeal than the other split-book features. But it often featured Dr Strange in subordinate boxes on the covers in the period before the "Hulk" and "Captain America" features started in the Tales titles. #130 stands out as the only cover from that period where the "Dr Strange" image was dominant; #123 and #133 were the only Strange Tales evenly split ones.

The Wasp debuted in Mar. 63, Happy and Pepper debuted in Jun. 63, and the Thing joined the Torch's feature in May or Jun. 64 (in Strange Tales #123 he was a guest-star and #124 co-billed).

Interesting that Ant-Man was actually doing better than Thor before Stan and Jack took over. If they'd picked Ant-Man to save instead, would Hank have become a big star and people would most remember Thor for having a nervous breakdown and hitting Jane? And it's very odd Strange Tales was doing so well yet the main feature got the boot and the backup rarely made the cover, the first time being Steve Ditko's last. Was the Torch really unpopular like we've always assumed, or was it decided he should only be appearing in Fantastic Four for some reason? Thor doesn't pull ahead until the year Johnny is dumped for Nick Fury.

Surprised there aren't circulation figures for Journey into Mystery or Strange Tales from 1960. Those two had been around for years while Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense were new titles.

Perhaps writing the Torch/Thing stories was a chore and maybe Jack wanted the SHIELD series to start somewhere. Writing good stories for Hank's character may have been tough also. We know that Stan was always in the Hulk's corner, so that may be why he took over from Giant-Man.

I wonder how much the circulation figures were impacted by Marvel's hit-or-miss distribution at the time?

Perhaps Stan didn't want someone else writing the Torch and the Thing, the same way he was later opposed to other writers using the Silver Surfer. Most issues had someone else, usually Dick Ayers, working on the plots with him. Turning it to someone else ran the risk of it bombing, which might have damaged sales of Fantastic Four. Still, you have to wonder where it might have gone if it had continued for another year, long enough for Jack to maybe jump into the Torch's series dragging Wyatt Wingfoot along with him.

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