Markley’s Fevered Brain: A Tale of Two Comics

Wayne Markley

Wayne Markley


by Wayne Markley

I have long been fascinated by the different paths Marvel and DC took in their style of storytelling, particularly in the 1960s. While I found both companies output entertaining and very readable, they had very different techniques and types of stories. These days it is at times difficult to tell the difference from a Marvel story from a DC story from a Valiant story from an Image story, etc. What I mean is there has become a very specific style of storytelling, with superheroes fighting it out, soap opera drama and almost every story being designed to run six issues so as to fill up a trade collection. While this current style of storytelling is derived from the 1960s Marvel stories, it lacks the charm and warmth of those books. To be fair, there are a number of books that do not fit into this category, but most of them tend to be from smaller publishers, and an occasional one from the big two, and a number from Image, with Saga and Paper Girls coming immediately to mind (noting both have the same writer).

Flash #123

Flash #123


What made the difference between Marvel and DC stories in the 1960s were the scope and breadth of the stories told. DC stories focused on short stories, generally a 16 page and a 10 page story. The stories tend to be upbeat and fun and done in a very clean style that had open spaces and bright colors and a sense of fun and adventure. Marvel tended to tell stories set in the real world (generally New York City) and the stories were 24 pages and they were filled with drama, action and at times, death. Marvel had a world where everything tied together, so there would be references where Spider-Man would see Daredevil swinging by and make a reference to the story taking place in that current issue of Daredevil. As Stan Lee wrote (or edited) almost all of the Marvel titles at the time it was much easier to do than at DC where you had a number of editors each who had their own stable of books, such as the Superman family of titles (Superman, Action, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olson, etc.) or the Batman family of books, or the war titles, or the science fiction line of books, etc. DC did have occasional crossovers with other characters, as Superman and Batman teamed ever month in Worlds Finest Comics, and Flash and Green Lantern would team up one a year in an annual tradition. But DC had nothing close to Marvel’s tight continuity until the late ‘70s. Recently two large volumes of reprint material have been published by Marvel and DC and they are both fines examples of both of these type of stories. Marvel released the third Epic Collection of Thor Epic Collection Vol. 3: The Wrath of Odin which reprints the Thor stories where Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (and sadly Vince Colletta) had started their best work on Thor, which along with Thor Epic Collections #4 and #5, are some of the best stories Lee/Kirby ever did together (rivaled only by their Fantastic Four run). DC has also released the second volume of the Flash: The Silver Age. This is a classic example of DC’s comics from the 1960s, as it has traditional Flash stories, plus the annual team-up with Green Lantern, and introduced the concept of Earth 2 and the return of the Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick in the famous story, The Flash of Two Worlds. All of the Flash stories were written by John Broom and illustrated by Carmine Infantino. These two books are fine examples of the differences between Marvel and DC, as well as being an excellent read, even though both are very different from each other.

Thor Epic Collection Vol. 3: The Wrath of Odin

Thor Epic Collection Vol. 3: The Wrath of Odin


First off there is Thor Epic Collection Vol. 3: The Wrath of Odin. This large tome comes in at over 500 pages with brilliant storytelling by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and reprints Thor #131-153 and Annual #2. These stories are from 1966 through 1968. These are a collection of stories that build on one another month after month, while telling two-part stories there were constant subplots that ran from issue to issue for years at a time, ranging from palace intrigue in Asgard to romance problems between Don Blake/Thor/Jane Foster. Lee was able to seed these little subplots in each issue and would grow these subplots in later issues. Lee did this in almost all of the Marvel titles of the ‘60s and is a large reason for the success of the comics. Lee added the soap opera aspects to comics which have become a mainstay of today’s books. Thor was a different than other Marvel books as it has a lead story with Thor and a short back-up story featuring Tales of Asgard. These short back up stories were a way for Lee to expand on the vast mythos that he had built around Thor and his friends, and it let him plant the seeds for stories down the road. Thor was Lee’s book where he explored the world of the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe. This was long before the Infinity Gauntlet and all of the cosmic material that Marvel would later do, as Thor was the place to find the most exotic and bizarre characters. In this Epic Collection you will find appearances by Ego the Living Planet (which includes one of Kirby’s early photo montages and is one of my favorite Kirby images), the High Evolutionary, the Super Skrull, and the Destroyer. These stories read at a break neck pace and are almost non-stop action and adventure. Overall this is both a fine read and is a fine example of what Marvel was in the 1960s. As with most of Marvel’s Epic collections, these volumes are not released in order, and as this is volume 3, volumes 1, 2 and 4 have come out in the past. So now you can read Journey into Mystery/Thor #83-173 all in sequence. A great read for any comic fan.

Thor Epic Collection Vol. 4: To Wake the Mangog

Thor Epic Collection Vol. 4: To Wake the Mangog


Just for those who may be curious, here is a summary of the other Thor Epic Collections. Thor Epic Collection Vol. 1: God of Thunder collects Journey into Mystery #83-109, all by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. These early stories tend to be more like the old monster stories than the majestic Thor that was to come. It is 480 pages. Thor Epic Collection Vol. 2: When Titans Clash reprints Journey into Mystery #110-125, Thor #126-130, and Annual #1. With the title changing from Journey into Mystery to Thor you start to see the full breadth of the story that Lee and Kirby were trying to tell. Also with each issue Kirby became more and more adventurous with his storytelling. It comes in at 504 pages. Thor Epic Collection Vol. 4: To Wake the Mangog, which came out before volume three, reprints Thor #154-174. By this point Lee and Kirby were in their prime and were telling stories that would take your breath away. These stories along with the Fantastic Four of the same time period would define Marvel in the ‘60s. This volume is 456 pages.

 

Flash: The Silver Age Vol. 2

Flash: The Silver Age Vol. 2


Flash: The Silver Age Vol. 2 reprints Flash #117-132. This volume picks up where volume one (which reprinted Flash appearances in Showcase and Flash #105-116) are all written by John Broome and have art by Carmine Infantino. What I love about this volume is it is a who’s who of Flash’s classic rogues gallery, everyone from the Top to the Mirror Master to Gorilla Grodd and many more. Plus there is the occasional science fiction and time travel story that was common in the Flash in those days. The backup stories were a mix of a shorter Flash stories and at times they featured a Kid Flash story. It should be pointed out that Kid Flash at this point was still Wally West in a small red Flash costume, as opposed to the yellow suit he would later wear. The exceptions were the annual guest appearance of Green Lantern which would always be a full length story. Other guest stars include the Elongated Man and the Golden Age Flash who became a regular guest star after his first appurtenance in Flash #123. It is arguable that Flash #123 is one of the most important books in comic’s history as it introduced a direct link between the Golden Age and the Silver Age. This was the first time in DC Comics where they revealed their past history and would lead to the return of the Justice Society and many of the Golden Age characters. I think it is also notable that this story tying the Golden Age to the Silver Age took place two years prior to Stan Lee bringing Captain America back from the Golden Age. While the Thor stories are filled with drama and tight continuity, these Flash stores are fun and whimsical. The drama never last more than 24 pages, and generally were 16 pages. These stories are a fun and mostly light read that leaves you feeling good and happy. It goes back to an earlier time (these stories were from 1961-1963) and they are sort of like watching Leave it to Beaver, a flashback to a simpler time.

Both of these books, Thor and Flash are almost complete opposites of each other in terms of style and storytelling and even art. Yet both of these books are the epitome of Marvel and DC Comics in the 1960s. Both are excellent but are so very different from one another. Both are equally worth reading though and I highly recommend both books. (As well as the other Thor Epic Collections and the first Silver Age Flash volume.) Have you read these books? What did you think? Do you agree with disagree with my view of why marvel and DC are different? I would like to know. I can be reached at MFBWAY@AOL.COM or on Facebook at Wayne Markley. Everything I have written here is my opinion and does not reflect the thoughts or opinions of Westfield Comics or their employees. As always…

Thank you.

 

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