12138086458?profile=RESIZE_400xThe Golden Age of Comics ended around 1950 or so.  If somebody wants to nitpick, he’d say it should be called the Golden Age of Super-Heroes.  That’s because it was the creation of Superman, followed by hundreds more of his ilk, that caused a boom in comic-book sales that lasted for over a decade.


The war boosted their popularity---there were more mystery men than the Nazis and Japanese could shake a swagger stick at---but after V-J Day, interest in their four-colour adventures died down.  If super-heroes were no longer selling comic books, then it was time to find something else that did.  The giant of the industry, DC Comics, or, as it was known then, National Comics, let all of its super-hero line die by December of 1950.  With a few exceptions.  For commercial or contractual reasons, titles featuring DC’s “Big Three”, Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman, carried on.  So did Blackhawk, a big seller which DC acquired when it bought out Quality Comics.  DC discontinued all of Quality’s other super-hero comics, though.


Otherwise, DC looked for the next genre that might hook its readers.  Funny animals.  War comics.  Westerns.  Science-fiction.  District attorneys and crusading newspapermen.  And licenced properties from the big and small screens like Bob Hope, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Ozzie and Harriet, Sgt. Bilko, and Hopalong Cassidy.   As the comics monolith, DC had the wherewithal to cast its net wide.


Nothing really seemed to click until, in 1956, DC editor Julius Schwartz gave super-heroes another try by dusting off the Flash and reïnventing him for the modern age, in Showcase # 4 (Sep.-Oct., 1956).  Again, some nitpickers will argue that DC had already tried going back to super-heroes with Captain Comet, in 1951, and the Manhunter from Mars, in 1955.


Certainly, these two characters possessed the accepted traits of a super-hero.  The thing is, DC did not present them as such.  Captain Comet was placed into the science-fiction milieu of Strange Adventures, and the Manhunter fought crime in his Earthly guise of police detective John Jones.  In those early years, rarely was his normal Martian form seen, usually for a panel or two at the beginning or end of a tale, and often, not at all.  More importantly, neither character inspired a resurgence of super-heroes.  The Flash would.


After three more Showcase try-outs, to make sure that the fans really wanted to see more of the Scarlet Speedster, he was launched in his own title, resuming the numbering of the original Flash Comics, in 1959.  Those healthy sales begat a new Green Lantern, a new Atom, a new Hawkman, and the Justice League of America.  Thus launched the Silver Age of Comics.  Super-heroes were king, again.


And, no, I haven’t forgotten that the title of this Deck Log entry refers to Marvel Comics.


In the post-WWII era, Marvel Comics went through the same sort of market shifts.  The company washed its hands of super-hero comics when it cancelled Captain America Comics with issue # 75 (Feb., 1950), even though, by then, the magazine had turned into a collexion of horror stories under the title of Captain America’s Weird Tales.  And it did make one last-gasp attempt at a new super-hero magazine in the fall of 1950, with Marvel Boy.  But that proved to be a no-go, as well.  The new series ran for only six issues, even after changing the title of the mag to Astonishing to disguise the fact that it featured a super-hero.


12395787267?profile=RESIZE_400xLike DC, 1950’s Marvel scurried to find the next Big Thing in comics.  The problem was that Marvel Comics didn’t have DC’s deep pockets or brand-name reputation.  For that matter, Marvel didn’t even have a brand name, really.  At the beginning, in 1939, it was known as Timely Comics.  However, Timely’s publisher, Martin Goodman, divided his output of periodicals and comics among a number of corporations, even though they were produced in the same offices, by the same staff.  Starting in the spring of 1944, Goodman’s comic-book line was published under the shell company of Marvel Comics, Inc.  This was reflected in the indicia at the bottom of the inside front covers. 


“Marvel Comics, Inc.” remained the publisher of record from then on, regardless of what logo appeared on the covers---and there was quite a changeover of those throughout the ‘50’s.  From the Atlas globe to a tiny “IND.” in the upper left corner, for Independent News Distributors, to a small box enclosing a vertical “Mc”.  (That last one would remain until the summer of 1963, when the cover corner boxes officially displayed “Marvel Comics Group”.)  The name confusion made it impossible for Marvel to acquire a reputation for a quality product such as DC enjoyed.


Marvel had less working capital to do the wide sweep of other genres that DC was doing.  So, Goodman put his faith in horror comics, war comics, romance comics, Westerns, and men’s adventures.  Most of these titles were anthologies.  There were a few headliners---Kid Colt, Patsy Walker, Millie the Model, and the two “Combats”, Casey and Kelly---none of whom had the name recognition to compete for youngsters’ dimes, like Superman and Batman.


Perhaps it was that very lack of star power that led Marvel to revive its own “Big Three”, the Human Torch, Captain America, and the Sub-Mariner.  The trio took over Young Men, which had featured tales of teen-age male adventures, with issue # 24 (Dec., 1953).  Each hero got his own story which explained what he had been doing since World War II.  The beginning of 1954 saw the revival of their own titles, and the three of them spent much of their time battling the Communist threat.  Captain America, especially, as most of his adventures put him on the front lines in Korea.  Cap and the Torch and Subby did a lot of crossing over into each other’s series, to maximise their exposure.  


But, apparently, beating up Commies didn’t have the same visceral thrill for fans as fighting the Nazis did, and Marvel’s effort to revive old glories sputtered out.  Young Men, along with Cap and the Torch’s titles, were gone in six months.  The Sub-Mariner lasted the longest, with his comic holding on until the summer of 1955.  Marvel continued putting out its nondescript hodge-podge of war magazines, Westerns, romance comics, and teen-age hi-jinx.  It added a few science-fiction titles, such as Journey into Mystery and Strange Tales, which were gaining traction.  But there were no break-out hits.  Nothing Marvel Comics put on the newsstand threatened to give Superman any sleepless nights.




Now that you’re caught up on what was going on when Showcase # 4 hit the stands, we can go into the title subject of this Deck Log entry.


Any comics fan with a cursory knowledge of the Silver Age stumbling across this piece probably figured I was going for the Fantastic Four as Marvel Comics’ first Silver-Age super-heroes, having débuted in August of 1961.  But you folks who regularly follow my column are a savvy bunch and know that’s wrong, even if you’re not sure who was the first Marvel super-hero of the Silver Age.  And, in any event, you know me well enough to know that it wouldn’t be as obvious as the F.F.


Martin Goodman had been keeping a close eye on how well DC’s mags seemed to be doing, and in 1961, one of DC’s top-sellers was Justice League of America.  So, the publisher directed his editor, Stan Lee, to put out a comic book with their own team of super-heroes.  Obviously, that would’ve jumped to the top of Lee’s priority list.  But I can’t help but think that maybe Stan had already been considering introducing a super-hero to Marvel’s line.


Because he had introduced a character that fit the bill five months before Reed, Ben, Johnny, and Sue took that fateful rocket trip.


Such a new creation had largely gone unnoticed.  It’s not like Stan Lee had the liberty of introducing the character in his own magazine, or even have him take over one of the existing titles.   You see, Stan didn’t have the room.  In 1957, Goodman had contracted with the American News Company to distribute his magazines.  Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, the American News Company lost a lawsuit brought by the Department of Justice and was forced to shut down operations.  That left Goodman scurrying for a new distributor. 


With no other options, Goodman reluctantly turned to Independent News Distributors---which was owned by DC Comics, and Jack Liebowitz was happy to apply the screws to a rival.  One of the conditions of the deal with Independent News limited Marvel’s distribution to only eight magazines a month.  In June of 1957, Marvel put out thirty-six titles a month; in July of 1957, it put out only eight.  That left Stan Lee no wiggle room to launch a new comic without the boss’ permission.


In Marvel’s catalogue of magazines, the best sellers were the science-fiction-themed titles:  Journey into Mystery, Strange Tales, Tales of Suspense, and Tales to Astonish.  These were all books presenting tales about aliens, time travel, fantastic inventions, and the like, usually with some sort of Twilight Zone-like twist at the end.


But the lead feature was almost always the Monster, some sort of gigantic terror that attacked the city.  They boasted guttural names like Kraa or Rorgg or Grottu, and they occupied the covers.  Inevitably, the Monster would be stopped by that classic 1950’s hero, the pipe-smoking scientist who could become a man of action when necessary.


If Marvel had a niche market, this was it.  Nobody else, certainly not DC, was doing “monsters of the month”, and thanks to that, the science-fiction mags were drawing most of the company’s sales.  To Martin Goodman and his shareholders, adding another S.F.-based title would’ve seemed like a good idea.  But, in order to do that, under the terms of the contract with Independent News, another title would have to be dropped.


The sacrificial lamb was My Girl Pearl, sort of Marvel’s take on My Friend Irma.  The book just wasn’t making it, even after the regular cast was de-aged to teens for more Archie-like antics.  Come March of 1961, Pearl was out, and in her place was Torr, the cover monster of the first issue of Amazing Adventures.


The cover story opened in media res and with a clever twist, but it still followed the basic Monster on Earth format.  That meant the alien invader Torr was defeated by the usual intrepid man of science.  Hugh Marlowe would’ve been proud.


There were two back-up tales in Amazing Adventures # 1.  The first was a moody little piece about a wax museum that could’ve been lifted from “The Waxwork”, a 1959 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, with some tweaking of the twist ending.  It was the sort of morality tale that was par for the stories that filled the back pages of Marvel’s science-fiction mags.


But the third tale in that issue, that was something that was also fantastic---but a little different . . .




It begins in a swank medical club of an American city, where the member physicians are discussing a most peculiar invitation recently received.


“Imagine a Tibetan lama requesting a doctor from here in the United States!”


12395790284?profile=RESIZE_400xMost of the doctors live expensive lifestyles and can’t afford to be away from their practises that long.  Others reject the prospect of travelling to the other side of the world, at their own expense, to treat a patient they don’t know.  For those and other reasons, the physicians turn down the request outright.


Except for one of them---Doctor Anthony Droom.  Tall, athletic, and slick-bald, Droom is piqued by the mysterious request.  He’s long had an interest in Oriental cultures.  Answering the call would give him the chance to investigate their mystic arts.  And, besides, there’s a man who needs a doctor’s knowledge.  Droom’s sense of duty and his curiosity puts him on the next overnight flight to Tibet.


After a treacherous hike up one of the snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas, Dr. Droom finally arrives at the lamasery where his aid is requested.  Upon admission, the physician is daunted to learn from the lama’s chief aide that he will receive no payment for his services, despite the fact that the palace contains treasures worth a young fortune.  No payment, insists the aide, whose name we’ll eventually learn is Ramu.  Take it or leave it.  Reluctantly, Droom accepts.


But, for Droom, the unpleasantness is only getting started.


Ramu shows him a long, narrow corridor.  At the end of which, the Tibetan assures, the doctor will find his patient.  But it's sacred ground, and Droom must leave his shoes and his medical bag before entering.  He protests that he might need his instruments, but not strongly---the American physician has learnt that there’s no arguing with the lama’s assistant.  Unshod and unequipt, Dr. Droom heads down the corridor.


To his dismay, Droom discovers that the narrow path is a gamut of dangers through which he must pass.  The first is a bed of burning coals which he is told he can only cross over safely by fixing his gaze on an emerald eye on the other side.  He concentrates on the glowing orb and walks across the red-hot coals unharmed.


Next, he is confronted by a savage hybrid of gorilla and lion---a gorlion!  He must get by the beast and escape the chamber.  Then, he will be delivered to the lama.  With a speed born of both fear and determination, the athletic doctor dodges the gorlion’s charge.  He grabs a near-by coil of rope to ensnare the creature, only to see the line stiffen and rise on its own.  Droom swiftly climbs it to safety.


Parting a set of drapes, the American physician arrives in the lama’s bedchamber.  The aged monk lies before him, wizened and shriveled.  He tells Droom that he is beyond the help of his medicine; he is a very old man at the end of his days.  Droom is more curious than angry.  He wants to know, if the lama knew he was dying, why did he send all the way to America for a doctor?


“On Earth there are many occult forces,” the holy man explains.  “Things strange and sinister!  Forces which are a constant threat to mankind!”


For years beyond counting, the lama has used his mystical knowledge to combat such evil.  But, now, the sands of his life are running out.  He sought another to take his place, a man of learning and duty and compassion.


He sent halfway around the world for a doctor.  Anthony Droom travelled that great distance to much expense and difficulty, and when told that he would not be paid for his efforts, he still consented to treat his patient, a man he’d never met.  That proved Droom’s compassion and sense of duty.


The trials with the burning coals and the gorlion confirmed Droom’s courage and skill, qualities he will need to be the lama’s successor in the never-ending battle against the occult forces of evil.


That is, if he’s willing to take the job.  But, as the lama anticipated, the doctor’s sense of obligation will not let him refuse.


“I accept the task!” says Droom.


With a nod, the ancient monk extends his hand.  Droom takes it---and his face undergoes a strange transformation!  What had once been clearly Occidental features have taken on an Oriental cast.


“I have given you an appearance suitable to your new rôle!” explains the lama.


Satisfied that a successor is ready to take up his war against evil, the holy man dies.  His disciple, Ramu, pledges to serve Dr. Droom and teach him the secrets of magic and mysticism that his former master knew.


The final panel informs us that we will see this character again, in the next issue and “the Amazing Challenge of Doctor Droom!”




This, in itself, was unusual.  Oh, sure, occasionally a “monster of the month” might turn out to be not as destroyed as everyone thought and make an encore appearance.  But Anthony Droom was the good guy, and his first appearance was an origin story, if there ever was one.


Sure enough, Dr. Droom returned in Amazing Adventures # 2 (Jul, 1961).  “The World Below” lets us know a little of what’s happened since Droom became the nemesis of sinister forces of darkness.  For one thing, he’s mastered at least one ability---the power to hypnotise others.  That wouldn’t necessarily be a mystic power, except that Droom can mesmerise the minds of a large crowd by way of a television screen.  That’s beyond the skills of your typical nightclub hypnotist.12395794094?profile=RESIZE_400x


And we learn that Droom has had time to make a name for himself as a paranormal investigator.  His reputation is impressive enough that, when S.S. Luxuria, the world’s largest ocean liner, vanishes at sea, the steamship officials call him for help.  The company men don’t even ask how he will proceed.


In a tender equipt with a bathysphere, Droom and Ramu steam to the last known location of Luxuria.  Then, after being lowered in the sub-sea sphere until it touches ocean bottom, the scuba-garbed mystic emerges.  He searches until he finds a secret underwater passage which leads to---the lost city of Atlantis!


Luxuria is there, unharmed but confined.  The Atlanteans are studying the ship’s technology and the humans on board, in preparation for an invasion of the surface world.  Dr. Droom makes his way to the throne room of the Atlantean ruler.  There, in an impressive effort of mass-mesmerism, he alters the minds of the entire undersea population into believing that there is no life above the seas, that the surface world is nothing but empty wasteland.


He performs an equally amazing mind-wipe of Luxuria’s crew and passengers before safely returning the vessel to the waves above.  Back on their cruise, those on board don’t recall what happened, and the steamship officials are happy enough not to ask any questions.




There would be three more “amazing cases of Dr. Droom”, appearing in Amazing Adventures # 3 and #4 and #6, which would be the last issue of the title.  In this trio of adventures, the medical mystic thwarts the plans of Zemu, a stage magician who uses his unnatural power of persuasion to get elected governor of the state; turns back an advance force of warlike aliens bent on conquering the Earth; and solves the mystery of houses vanishing into thin air.


Over the short run of his series, Dr. Droom demonstrated various other extraordinary abilities.  He could perform the Indian Rope Trick, cast his voice to remote locations, communicate by telepathy, and, by tensing the muscles of his body, make himself indestructible, at least to bullets.  The Indian Rope Trick may not be that impressive (heck, even Hadji on Jonny Quest could do that one), but others certainly qualify as super-powers.  He could also handle himself physically with an expert knowledge of judo.


Sure sounds like a super-hero to me.  One convention of the genre to which Droom didn’t conform was a costume.  He preferred to do his evil-vanquishing in a trench coat and business suit.  But, then, a costume has never been a work requirement for super-heroes.  Just ask Johnny Thunder or Ibis the Invincible.  Or better yet, Doctor Occult.


It seems to me that, months before the Goodman-mandated creation of the Fantastic Four, Stan Lee was already exploring the possibilities of introducing a super-hero into the Marvel universe.  But, just as he would attempt with the F.F., Lee wanted to hedge his bets by eschewing many of the common trappings of comic-book mystery men.  No costume, no nom du guerre, no secret identity or hideaway.  Basing Anthony Droom’s extraordinary abilities on mystic studies from Tibet was one of the more familiar sources, having been used in the origins of such ranging characters as the pulps' Green Lama and radio’s the Shadow and, later, television’s the Champions.


12395800673?profile=RESIZE_400xPerhaps it was too subdued an approach, as the character of Dr. Droom didn’t take off.  In any event, he was eclipsed by the wave of more traditional super-heroes generated by Marvel Comics following the popularity of the Fantastic Four.  Likely, the good doctor would’ve been forgotten, but, never letting a copyright go unprotected, Marvel brought him back in its reprint title, Weird Wonder Tales.  Issue # 19 (Dec., 1976) reprinted Droom’s origin story from Amazing Adventures # 1, albeit with some significant changes.  Most prominently, Our Hero received a name-change, to Dr. Anthony Druid.  Presumably to avoid confusion with Marvel’s similarly named but far more prominent Doctor Doom.  The reprinted tale also removed the racial change in his features, keeping him a Caucasian.  Also added was a fringe of black hair, making his baldness appear natural rather than a stylistic choice, and the goatee which had come and gone in the original stories.


Weird Wonder Tales # 20 (Jan., 1977) reissued the Droom/Druid case of Zemu the Magician.  Druid served as the host of the reprinted tales in the next two issues, and the last issue of the title, # 23 (May, 1977), reprinted the second Droom story of his adventure in Atlantis.  Along the way, the character’s street clothes were redrawn, giving him a costume of red Spandex with a mystic chest emblem and a dark blue cloak.


By then, he had rejoined the Marvel universe proper, appearing in The Incredible Hulk # 210-1 (Apr. and May, 1977).  From then on, he kicked around the Marvel titles before landing a home as an Avenger, beginning with The Avengers # 278 (Apr., 1987).  That wasn’t a huge surprise---it’s tough to name a Marvel super-hero who wasn’t an Avenger at one time or another.  His experience with the Assemblers was controversial, to say the least.  Still, that was his most significant time in the limelight. 


It's difficult for writers to get past the readers’ perception of Dr. Druid as a second-string Doctor Strange, so he doesn’t appear very often.  But that doesn’t erase his standing as Marvel’s first Silver-Age super-hero.


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  • You kept me guessing which character you were writing about right up until the big reveal. I first encountered Dr. Druid in the aforementioned Incredible Hulk #210-211. You summary stopped short of the character's death in his own 1995 mini-series (which I did not read). I personally last saw him in the Chaos War spin-off series Dead Avengers (2011), although I think he has resurfaced a time or two since them. Amazing Adventures #6 may have been the last issue of that title, but the series itself continued as Amazing (Adult) Fantasy #7-15. A 2007 HC omnibus reprinted the entire 15-issue run, which was primarily a showcase for Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Although I have a few of the Weird Wonder Tales reprints, it is the Amazing Fantasy hardcover where I was able to read all of the Dr. Droom stories in one place at last. It's well worth it if you can find a copy.

  • I knew of Dr. Droom, but I didn't know he pre-dated the FF. I agree with you Commander - he has all the origin and qualifications of a super hero. (Changing him from occidental to oriental is a little strange... but probably in character. Even Dr. Strange looked a little oriental in his first appearances.) Had he continued in his strip or in a backup/two-for title as Cap and Iron Man did - maybe backing up Spider-Man - he would have been an interesting addition to the Silver Age Marvel universe. And I'm thinking that from an era which had both the Hulk and the Thing, having a Dr. Strange and a Dr. Droom could have had different enough stories to keep them both interesting and selling. Just a little case of bad timing, I reckon... a year later and he could have hit big and hard.

  •   Druid served as the host of the reprinted tales in the next two issues, and the last issue of the title, # 23 (May, 1977), reprinted the second Droom story of his adventure in Atlantis.  


    Not to be pedantic, but it was actually issue #22, which was where I first encountered the character.  In it, the Atlanteans were re-named "Aquaticans", presumably to avoid having to explain why they looked nothing  like Namor's people.  As I recall, they didn't look exactly like the critter on the cover, either.



  • Amazing Adventures #6 may have been the last issue of that title, but the series itself continued as Amazing (Adult) Fantasy #7-15. A 2007 HC omnibus reprinted the entire 15-issue run, which was primarily a showcase for Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.

    I pounced on this. I was buying Amazing Adult Fantasy before Spider-Man turned up.

  • "He could also handle himself physically with an expert knowledge of judo." In Silver Age Marvel, judo was a super-power. "Thanks to lessons from Captain America, I can use your own strength against you!" was the battle cry that finished dozens of Avengers fights.

    2)I wonder if Droom flopping is one reason Lee (or so I've read) didn't think much of Dr. Strange?

    3)Reading the Epic Dr. Strange: A Separate Reality collection recently I found myself thinking about how different Stephen's career might have been. Roy Thomas retired him, then revived him for the Defenders when Stan refused to let Roy use the Silver Surfer for his proposed Titans Three team. If the team had been Titans Three, Dr. Strange might have stayed retired — but if Marvel was willing to revive an obscurity like Dr. DroomDruid, they'd certainly have brought Stephen back eventually.

    • Doctor Strange would more than likely be revived eventually even without Roy Thomas' intervention. The character is just too interesting to be left unused for very long.

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