"Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Tales Of Suspense, Volume 2"
(Marvel Comics, 2008)
For many years there's been a tendency to look at the pre-Fantastic Four Marvel/Atlas monster mags as lesser works, orphans of the comics industry that were not as gnarly as the pre-Code comics and not as super as the superhero stories. But don't fool yourself: these Kennedy-era comics were a blast, and they were very much on an equal footing with the better-known superhero titles that immediately followed them.
Of course there's the artwork, mainly anchored by the twin talents of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, whose bold, dynamic styles burst out of every page they drew, full of pure, unbridled vitality and vibrant originality. Next up were Don Heck and Paul Reinman, veterans of the late '50s Atlas genre books, along with several other artists on a story or two here and there. Ditko's work is solid and evocative, though Kirby is the one given full reign in the Tales Of Suspense title -- his stories lead each issue, and starting in issue #14 (cover-dated February, 1961) he began to experiment with long-form stories which were closer in length to the full-issue superhero adventures that began a few months later. There are also early experiments with issue-to-issue continuity, with two episodes featuring the golem-like Colossus, and the saga of the alien conqueror Goom, followed by his bratty son, Googam.
Because most of the stories are short-form, five- or six-page genre tales, it's often considered obligatory to praise the artwork and pooh-pooh the writing in these books. I respectfully have to disagree: if you grew up grooving out on the early Spider-Man, Hulk and FF adventures, these stories are every bit as spectacular, fun and imaginative. It's Stan the Man in 1960-61: crazy, silly ideas and tons of hyperbolic, exclamatory dialogue. These stories have a very familiar feel. Also, there are a lot of the same sort of ideas getting hashed out, with a number of super-powered beings running wild between the pages - Goom in particular has powers such as levitation, telekinesis and time travel, while both Elektro and Metallo are clear precursors to the armor-clad Iron Man. It's all there. Reading these great goofy oldies feels like finding a stash of long-lost Marvel classics, which of course is exactly what it is. This era, which would be capped in the November, 1961 debut of the Fantastic Four, is much different than the sometimes-stiff, imitative Atlas horror titles of the early '50s -- it's not just about the artwork here, it's about the whole explosive creative gestalt of the 'Sixties Marvel Bullpen. Great stuff, highly recommended! (DJ Joe Sixpack, ReadThatAgain children's book reviews)