Monday, September 28, 2009

Monster Masterworks

The first comic books I remember reading are mid-Fifties issues of SUPERMAN, BATMAN, and WALT DISNEY’S COMICS & STORIES that I came across a few years after they were published. But it wasn’t long after that that I encountered TALES TO ASTONISH, STRANGE TALES, and the other “monster” comics that Marvel was publishing at the time. These books featured short, stand-alone yarns heavily influenced by the horror and science-fiction movies of the Fifties, with titles like “Groot, the Monster from Planet X!” and “Taboo, the Thing from the Murky Swamp!” (Gotta get those exclamation points in there.)

I wasn’t a huge fan of those stories, but I read plenty of them. And when Marvel reprinted a bunch of them in the Seventies, I read some of those, too. So when I came across MONSTER MASTERWORKS, a trade paperback full of those reprinted stories, I had to pick it up and read it, for old time’s sake, if nothing else.

The biggest appeal of these stories now is the artwork. Most of them in this volume were penciled by Jack Kirby and inked by Dick Ayers, the team responsible for so much great work on the various Marvel superhero titles a few years later. MONSTER MASTERWORKS also includes stories drawn by the great Steve Ditko and one story penciled by Kirby and inked by Bill Everett, the Golden Age icon who created the Submariner. (Quick – “Sub-MARE-in-er” or “Sub-ma-REEN-er”?)

Not surprisingly, the scripts are all by Stan Lee, and boy, are these stories silly, especially the ones drawn and probably plotted by Kirby. The Ditko stories, “The Threat of Tim Boo Ba!” (probably my favorite story in the book), “Zzutak, the Thing That Shouldn’t Exist!!” (whoa, two exclamation points, must be really scary, kids), and the positively restrained “Fear in the Night” at least have twist endings. Some of the other stories are pretty interesting, too, such as “The Brute That Walks!”, a yarn that foreshadows the creation of the Hulk a few years later.

All in all, I had a great time reading this collection. It didn’t quite make me feel like I was seven years old and sitting on the front porch of my parents’ house reading funny books again, but it came close.


Fred Blosser said...

If memory serves, Kirby's artwork in particular was consistently good in these monster comics. The first few issues of FANTASTIC FOUR were heavy on monsters, and Ant-Man spun off an earlier monster oriented story ("The Man in the Ant Hill") as Marvel transitioned into the '60s superhero era.

Randy Johnson said...

I remember those comics as well. I read enough of them. I've always went with the "mare" pronunciation.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

It's more or less the way Randy says it. The Marin rhymes with Karen.

Rittster said...

Gotta love those exclamation points!!!

The past 10-15 years has been great to be a comics fan. I used to be a pretty heavy collector when I was a kid, 'round about 1976-1982. I used to go to comic conventions and drool over the comics from the 1940's like All-Star Comics, Plastic Man, Captain Marvel (Shazam), and others, but I'd be so bummed out because they were too expensive for me to buy. But now there's the DC Archives, Marvel Masterworks (Golden and Silver Age), The EC Archives, and I could go on and on. So at this point, I've been able to buy so many of those comics I used to dream about having as a kid, as well as discovering artists and writers I'd never even heard of, like Boody Rogers, Basil Wolverton, Al Capp (love the satirical aspect, but he's too heavy on the dialect), whoever did the "Herbie" comics, Good Girl Art, and many others who've been represented in pre-code crime, horror, and superhero anthologies.

Good times, good times. Thanks for bringing back the memories, James.