October MONSTER MASH!
The Scarier Side of Superhero Comics (part three of four)
Following the 1961 debut of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four #1, a virtual army of new titles and characters sprang to life in its wake. Now-famous names like Spider-Man, Thor and the Hulk entered the pop cultural landscape, thanks to the success of Marvel Comics’ inaugural title.
However, those particular names (and many others) have
a secret history prior to the publication of Fantastic Four #1, when
Marvel was known as Atlas Comics.
For most of the 1950’s, Marvel’s future superstars (such as Lee, Kirby, Steve Ditko and John Romita) toiled away on Atlas horror, romance and sci-fi titles. The sci-fi titles, such as Strange Tales and Journey Into Mystery, featured a staggering array of giant, malevolent monsters...each with its own bizarre appearance and name.
Some of the monster names demonstrated the creative flair of the proto-Bullpen, such as Fin Fang Foom (check out the green swim trunks).
…while other names suggest a “rough patch” where their creativity may have been on the wane.
Yet the most fascinating category of pre-Marvel monsters was the one with some startlingly familiar names.
Eight years before puny Peter Parker strapped on his homemade web-shooters, the cover of Uncanny Tales #26 (1954) featured a very different Spider-Man.
Even a few members of Spidey’s rogues gallery had their own pre-Marvel counterparts, such as Electro…with a “K” (Tales of Suspense #13, 1961)…
...the Sandman (Journey Into Mystery #70, 1961)…
…and the Molten Man (Tales of Suspense #7, 1960).
You’ll note that the Molten Man-Thing also shares its name with Marvel’s resident swamp creature the Man-Thing.
Size-changing Avenger Henry Pym used a variety of superhero code names, such as Goliath…which (besides being the name of David's gigantic nemesis), was also the name of “the monster that walks like a man” from Journey Into Mystery #63 (1960).
The year 1961 saw two threats named “X” appear within three months of each other, perhaps hinting that the letter “X” would figure prominently into the future Marvel universe?
Also, was it only a coincidence that the “X” creature from Amazing Adventures (right) vaguely resembled the Juggernaut, a future foe of the X-Men?
The greatest of the X-Men's villains also had a pre-Marvel namesake. Magneto, “the strangest menace the world has ever known”, was featured in Strange Tales #84 (1961), apparently wielding some sort of power over magnetism…or something.
Even the X-Men themselves had a couple of giant monster namesakes. Colossus, from Strange Tales #72 (1960)...
…and Cyclops, from Tales of Suspense #10 (1960).
A few years before Bruce Banner transformed into the (then) gray-skinned Incredible Hulk, the name gets a “test drive” in both Journey Into Mystery #62 (1960) and #66 (1961), making the Hulk one of the rare pre-Marvel monsters to earn itself a sequel. They must have known they were onto something with the name (and the grey appearance).
Fantastic Four arch-villain Dr. Doom, whose real name is Victor Von Doom, is only a vowel away from earlier evil genius Vandoom, who was responsible for unleashing "a creature” upon the frantic townspeople in Tales to Astonish #17 (1961).
Fellow F.F. foe Diablo also finds his monster-match on the cover of Tales of Suspense #9 (1960).
The Thing, a founding member of the Fantastic Four, shared a name with multiple creatures named “The Thing”, one of which appeared on a cover with more than a passing resemblance to Fantastic Four #1 (Strange Tales #79, 1960)….
…while the other, on the cover of Journey Into Mystery #74 (left panel), looks a bit like the lumpy, orange-skinned Ben Grimm himself.
Another eerily Thing-like creature was Sserpo, from Amazing Adventures #6, an issue published the exact same month as Fantastic Four #1! Looks like Jack Kirby had lumpy orange creatures on the brain!
As strange as these overlapping names may be, none of them were quite as strange as the Pre-Marvel Thor. Prior to the first appearance of Marvel’s mighty thunder god, a creature named Thorr (with an extra “R”) appeared in Tales to Astonish #16 (1961). What makes this namesake so much stranger than others is that Thorr looks almost exactly like the Stone Men of Saturn, whom the “real” Thor would battle a year later during his first appearance in Journey Into Mystery #83!
Of course, when Marvel reprinted these monster stories in the early 1970’s, all of the overlapping names were changed to prevent reader confusion (such as “Hulk” to “Xemnu, the Living Titan”), but now it can be told that there was a time when giant, rampaging monsters shared the names of familiar Marvel superheroes!