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.