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Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Tales of Suspense - Volume 2 Hardcover – Jun 25 2008
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(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)
Some of us entered elementary school in the mid-50's and came of age then. In the late 50's and early 60's, between the movies "Forbidden Planet," "The Blob," "I Married a Monster from Outer Space," _and_ TV's "Star Trek," there existed an entertainment gap for early Sci-fi buffs. We were transitioning away from Dick & Jane and were way too green and inexperienced to be captivated by the vocabulary dense Wells, Verne, Cyril Kornbluth, Pohl, et al., so the thirst for speculative and science fiction and monsters was quenched by these easier to read comics.
We would read them and trade them and read them again. TV drama was geared for adults, so the nerdier kiddies settled for Atlas and Marvel to feed our need to probe into the dark, scarier side of life.
We enjoyed the ironic "O'Henry endings" before we had even heard of O'Henry. We thrilled to read about the encounters between ordinary humans and monsters from swamps, space, time, dimensions, etc. And the encounters left us all sadder but wiser. These stories introduced 9 to 12 year olds to certain darker aspects of the human condition: racism, greed, revenge, pride, envy, lust for power, etc.
Some of those stories, the conflicts, and their resolutions haunted me for decades. Powerful stuff for a pre-pubescent.
These collections are truly a nostalgia trip. The stories take me back to a pre-Twilight Zone, Cold War era where things were not always what they seemed. Read them and pass them along to your favorite 10 year-old relative. S/He will not only get a kick out of them, you just might see him/her grow up to be a wonderful and imaginative adult.
For the younger set this is a five star book, for me, today, it's three and half, so I split the difference.
This is one of my favorite Atlas volumes because of four stories in particular: the two Living Colossus stories and the stories about Goom and then his son, Googam.
Once again, Marvel does an excellent job restoring these stories and printing them in this high-quality format.
This volume covers the time period from September 1960 to August 1961.
#11 - "I Created Sporr... the Thing that would not Die" by Kirby and Ayers has the requisite hero scientist battling against a giant amoeba. "Beware the Eyes of Igor" by Paul Reinman is a great mystery, if a bit derivative of other Atlas stories regarding the overall plot idea.
#12 - "I Must Find Those Who Lurk Below" by Ditko is a great tale with lush artwork. "The Monster in My Cellar" by Reed Crandall is an excellent suspense story (see what I did there:) This tale shows that Crandall was successful working at Atlas.
#13 - "Electro" by Kirby, "The Demon in the Dungeon" by Don Heck and "When the Earth Vanished" by Ditko are interesting stories with great artwork.
#14 - "I Created the Colossus" by Kirby. This three-parter is awesome, if a bit weird, regarding the alien presence. Fantastic art and a powerful creature combine to make this one of the top stories in the series. "I am... Gorak" by Ditko is another story that he delves into the realm of magic, before creating Doctor Strange.
#15 - "Goom! The Thing from Planet X" is an excellent two-part story about an intergalactic terrorist. "I am the Living Ghost" by Ditko demonstrates that nobody does phantasms like Steve Ditko.
#16 - "The Thing Called Metallo" is another amazing Kirby giant robot story. "Nightmare" by Don Heck beckons to Doctor Strange's nemesis.
#17 - A mere two issues after Goom appeared, we get "Beware of Googam, Son of Goom". This two-parter has the son of the cosmic terrorist come to Earth to redeem his family name. It's a fun counterpoint to the original Goom story and, to my knowledge, is the first multi-generational horror story done by Atlas. "What Lurks in the Mountain" by Ditko has a bit of a different artistic style for him.
#18 - "Enter the Robot" by Ditko is one of his best stories, as both plot and artwork are home runs. There's such an eerie quality to this story, aided by the cascading water rivulets that he would employ on Spider-man years from this story.
#19 - Though looking like walking broccoli, "The Green Thing" by Kirby is a great combination of art and story (hey, there's probably many people that would find intelligent, mobile broccoli terrifying). "The Haunted Paper" by Ditko is an inventive tale about future prediction. "The Coming of Maaboo" by Heck is a neat morality story.
#20 - "The Colossus Lives Again!" by Kirby is awesome. That splash with the Colossus on the ship is amazing! Kirby's ability to give his creatures mass and immense size was unparalleled at the time. "The Bomb" by Ditko is another excellent sci-fi tale examining Earthlings' penchant for paranoia and suspicions.