Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Tales to Astonish - Volume 1 Hardcover – Jan 25 2006
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Bronze dust jacket
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Under the banner of Atlas Comics, Lee and the amazing talents of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Matt Baker, Carl Burgos and Joe Sinnott assaulted young 1950s readers with bold five-page, nine-panel horror/sci-fi stories with surprise ending "inspired" by the Twilight Zone tv series. Some much so, Lee stated in an interview with Will Murray regarding his Amazing Fantasy scripts, "I used to get letters from readers `Hey, I just saw Twilight Zone, and they used one of your stories from issue so-and-so.'"
Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Tales to Astonish Volume 1 beautifully reprints the first 10 issues of the title and brings out face-to-face with captured Martians, Mummex- King of the Mummies, the sinister Floating Head, Droom- the living lizard, the Things from Easter Island and many more oddball and off-beat menaces from the four-color universe.
This collection is a must have for vintage monster comic book fans who have enjoyed Dick Briefer's The Monster of Frankenstein or Monster Masterworks.
Tales to Astonish had all of early Marvel's top artistic talent. In some ways, their artwork here is even better than it would be for the first few years under Marvel's heroes, possibly due to lower page rates? Yes, some of the tales appear a bit predictable and some of the characters are one-dimensional, but what amazes me is the shear variety of different stories Kirby and Ditko were doing at this time. Kirby did 7 covers and 4 stories that were published in Jan '60 (Tales to Astonish 7, which he did the cover and "We Met in the Swamp", published in this volume). He was doing Westerns, Romance and War stories in addition to these Sci-Fi, Fantasty/Horror and Atomic Monster tales. Kirby has 8 stories in this collection. Ditko has 9.
Very few characters repeat in these stories. Kirby's Genie and Ditko's Colossus are the only two in this volume. Each month, they had to invent completely new worlds and new casts, introduce us to them along with the threat or mystery, and wrap it up usually within 5 pages. Many of these stories leave me wishing we could see would happened just before or just after the story ends.
Even artists that were considered lesser talents during the Marvel Age, such as Don Heck and Paul Reinman, turn in fine work during this period. Joe Sinnott and Dick Ayers have several stories that they pencil here.
Highlights from the issues (all writing credits are unattributed. The collection assigns plot and script to Stan Lee and Larry Lieber. I'll mention who is credited with the art):
#1 - "We Found the Ninth Wonder of the World" by Kirby, starts off with a twelve-foot lobster terrorizing a research vessel and their problems continue to get bigger. "I Know the Secret of the Poltergeist" by Ditko has moody art as only Ditko can deliver. This story would fit well within the world of Dr. Strange. "I Was the First Person to Set Foot on… the Mystery Planet" by Carl Burgos (creator of the original Human Torch) and, some folks speculate, Jack Kirby. This story is an interesting sci-fi tale about an interplanetary explorer and the strange world he finds.
#2 - "When Aliens Meet" is a great morality tale and drawn surprisingly well by Don Heck. "I Was a Man in Hiding" is a great sci-fi piece by John Buscema, one of only six stories he did for Atlas during the first half of 1959. He wouldn't return to Stan Lee's fold until 1966.
#3 - I liked every story in this sci-fi packed issue. Ditko's "I Journeyed Back to the 20th Century" is an interesting take on time travel. His art in this story is very different than the first, using a much thinner stroke. "I Discovered the Men from Mars" has great artwork from Joe Sinnott and looks like it could've been a supporting story to DC's Legion of Super-Heroes from the early 60s. "I Found the Perfect Hiding Place" has stylized art by Carl Burgos and is an interesting morality tale that tries to convey the vastness of space. "I Am the Giant from Outer Space" has good artwork from Paul Reinman. The ending might be a bit expected by us now and was not exactly original even then, but it was probably much less predictable to readers of the late 50s. "I Escaped to the Stars" by Bob Forgione is an interesting introspective on dealing with imprisonment in the future.
#4 - "I Was a Prisoner of the Martians" has some of the best full artwork that I've ever seen from Joe Sinnott. Likewise "My Forbidden Paintings" has exceptional art from Don Heck and is a neat tale in the vein of "be careful what you wish for." Ditko has Captain Racer battle Bogane in "The Man who Floats in Space."
#5 - This is another potent issue. Kirby turns in powerful art on "I was Trapped by the Things on Easter Island." I really enjoyed "I Can See Tomorrow" about the risks in predicting the future. "I Found the Nightmare Note" has beautiful renderings of a gray cat by Al WIlliamson. "I Landed on the Forbidden Planet" by Ditko is an awesome tale about a world gone giant. Marvel might have had this story in mind when Steve was briefly tasked with the Micronauts.
#6 - "I Saw the Invasion of the Stone Men" is one of Ditko's rare Giant Monster works and it's fine indeed. "I Laughed at the Great God Pan" shows Kirby's penchant for mythology tales. "I Was the Man Under Glass" by Joe Sinnott is a great morality tale about the folks in power having such disregard for those beneath them. I remember reading a tale from earlier in the Atlas Era that was more directly colonial than this sci-fi allegory, but had a similar conclusion.
#7 - Here is where sister title Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish really take off. Don Heck has spectacular art in a giant monster tale called "He Waits for Us in the Glacier". "We Met in the Swamp" has terrific art by Kirby in a tale about aliens and otherworldly cultural differences. "I Lived a Ghost Story" has spooky art by Paul Reinman.
"I Spent Midnight on Bald Mountain" and its companion story in #8 "I Live Again" are my two favorite stories in this collection. A sculptor moves to a deserted castle in central europe to craft his masterpiece. He uses material from hallowed grounds to construct his colossus of good and material from places of infamy to construct his figure of evil to depict the symbolic struggle of "Good vs Evil". Lightning strikes the clay causing it to spring to life. This colossus is not directly related to the creature called "It, the Living Colossus" created by Jack Kirby in Tales of Suspense #14 but definitely seems to be a source of inspiration, especially from the second tale.
#8 - "I Live Again" is a fantastic tale, though the Colossus is significantly bigger this time around and more of the scale for The Living Colossus. The ending to this one is haunting indeed, if you keep your disbelief suspended. "I Dared Defy the Floating Head" by Reinman emulates Kirby to a degree. "I Am the Genie" is a great mystical story by Kirby with excellent inking by Ditko. "Mummex, King of the Mummies" has unbelievable art by Don Heck. It's a shame we didn't get more of this version of Heck during the Marvel Age. I would definitely enjoy Mummex vs Iron Man.
#9 - "The Return of the Genie" bears little resemblance to the Genie story from #8, this time Kirby is inked by Christopher Rule and the tale is more sci-fi oriented. "No Way Out" by Steve Ditko has a Twilight Zone flavor to it. "I Saw Droom The Living Lizard" us a great Godzilla/Gorgo tale done by Don Heck. (Steve Ditko did several issues of the Gorgo comic starting a half year later in 1961 for Charlton Comics.)
#10 - For the finale, we get a double-dose of Jack Kirby: "I Was Trapped by Titano the Monster that Time Forgot" and "What Was the Strange Power of Simon Drudd". "Something Lurks Inside" is an excellent sci-fi horror story by Ditko.
This is a fantastic volume and something that young and old alike can enjoy. Fans of Marvel's Silver Age will enjoy seeing these artists in their pre-superhero mode but still see the heritage of many Silver Age stories.