THE SILVER AGE (1956 – 1970)
— “With great power comes great responsibility!” – Ben Parker (Spider-man comics)
This period from around 1956 to 1970 was a huge shift in the world of comic books. Prior to this comics were in decline, mainly because of the Comics Code Authority banning all the awesome shit that was actually selling, because they were afraid it was going to create a generation of delinquents, you know like rap music and video games! Thanks to douchebag of the century, Fredric Wertham, many comic books and pulp magazines were burned in massive bonfires around the country.
So the Silver Age is considered the point at which comics were rejuvenated after a lame stint of pure camp in the Atomic Age of the 50’s. It was the beginning of many a Marvel hero and was marked by a much more sci-fi focus than ever before. This was also notably the introduction of some of the industry’s best talent to date, both artists and writers, including Neal Adams, Denny O Neal, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita Sr., and of course Stan Lee. Comics of this era are seen as an extension of the Atomic Age, and are often heavily influenced by B-rated Science Fiction films of the time where flying saucers, and giant radioactive monsters ran amok across the silver screen. One of the earliest instances of this was with the devious BRAINIAC first invading Action Comics in issue 242 (1958). Much like the Children of the Atom (the X-Men), Comics began to evolve.
Before Marvel’s big break, DC decided to reboot their line of heroes for the modern age. The first one to kick off this new renaissance was Showcase #4 (1956) featuring a reinvented speedster, Barry Allen, THE FLASH! Showcase #8 (1957) produced the first of his Rogues, CAPTAIN COLD! Flash was ‘quickly’ followed by Hal Jordan, the GREEN LANTERN of Sector 2814, first featured in Showcase 22 (1959). SINESTRO, the new GL’s primary nemesis was first introduced as the wise but jaded mentor to the rookie space cop of Hal, in Green Lantern #7 (1961). Sinestro eventually betrayed the Lantern Corps (shoulda seen it comin!), and went to the Anti-Matter Weaponers of Quard to forge him a fear-powered yellow-ring to counteract the will-powered emerald ring-bearers.
DC also had a head start on Marvel’s super hero teams with THE JUSTICE LEAGUE (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, the Green Lantern, and the Green Arrow) in ‘the Brave and the Bold’ 28 (1960), the same series that would introduce the TEEN TITANS in issue 54 (1964). It was during this time that Superman gained an assortment of new super-powers, including the ability to defy gravity, along with a certain allergy to Kryptonite. It was also established that Clark and Lex knew each other as kids growing up in SMALLVILLE. Kal-El / Clark Kent’s cousin, ‘Supergirl’, (Kara Zor-El) was introduced in Action #252 (1959). Also worth note, the villainous Kryptonian ZOD of Superman lore made his presence known in Adventure Comics (1961), and the original incarnation of MR. FREEZE appeared in Batman 121 (1959) as ‘Mr. Zero’, while POISON IVY started making Batman itch in issue 181 (1966).
With the success of the Justice League of America, Marvel decided to put together a team of heroes themselves in response… Marvel Comics finally got back into the game with Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s FANTASTIC FOUR #1! (1960) which completely changed the rules! Here was a super hero team that was created by a freak accident. They were actually family and genuinely relatable with all the bickering roommate issues that go along with sharing a pad at the Baxter Building with an Invisible Woman, a Human Torch and a … rock Thing. Man Reed Richards has got to have a trophy for putting up with these guys, right next to the plaque commemorating him on such an epic failure in scientific pioneering! Johnny Storm, THE HUMAN TORCH, was THE INVISIBLE WOMAN’S brother, while Sue Storm was MR. FANTASTIC’s girlfriend, and Ben Grimm, THE THING?!, was Richards’s best friend. One major departure from mainstream comics until that point was the absence of secret identities, these were public figures, in fact they were celebrities! Also, in their premiere issue they didn’t actually have super hero uniforms, yet, and rather than GOTHAM or METROPOLIS, it actually took place in NEW YORK (like practically all the Marvel mythos that followed suit). Unfortunately DR. DOOM doesn’t show up until issue 5 to hand the quartet their asses. Doom (*M.D.) has always been an intriguingly unique villain in that he’s the dictator of his own country and has diplomatic immunity while giving his old collogues a rough time.
In the wake of the FF’s success, Stan Lee followed it up with a legion of other heroes, such as: Dr. Bruce Banner in ‘the Incredible HULK’! (1962), in which this raging Jekyl/Hyde-like monster was unleashed, due to a certain Gamma-ray-Bomb related incident. The original Hulk was actually gray rather than his jolly-green-purple-pants-wearing-self. That same year, THOR, the Norse god of Thunder made his comic debut in ‘Journey into Mystery’ 83, although he technically first appeared in Viking Mythology thousands of years ago. ‘Tales to Astonish’ #27 saw the introduction of another Stan Lee creation: the infamous, mentally unstable, scientific genius known as …Dr. Hank Pym… aka the ANT-MAN? (Seriously?!) Or is it Giant Man? No, ‘Yellow Jacket’? I’m confused why does this douchebag deserve so many aliases? He also later got a sidekick / wife, Janet (the Wasp) whom he later abused, and divorced when he went psycho and became an Avengers villain (temporary insanity?)… Whatever, moving on…
The Invincible IRON MAN first showed his tin-head in Tales of Suspense 39 (1963) in which brilliant inventor, philanthropist, and industrialist arms-dealer Tony Stark, rocked a bulky golden suit of armor with an antenna. The Uncanny X-MEN also first appeared that year alongside MAGNETO (master of magnetism) in a metaphorical tale echoing the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s. The X-Men’s original roster included: Prof. X, CYCLOPS, Jean Grey (Marvel-Girl), Iceman, the BEAST (not blue), and Angel. Stan Lee was also the mastermind behind Marvel’s blind-superhero / lawyer DAREDEVIL who first sported a yellow costume (after developing enhanced senses and abilities attributed to the radioactive toxic sludge that also happened to blind him) and later adopted the iconic red suit in issue 7.
1963 also saw the introduction of NICK FURY! In the WWII based series ‘Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos’ showed the earl y years of a young and brash, cigar-chomping, soldier who we now know was destined for greatness. He was modernized (for the 60’s) in a Fantastic Four cameo. Then in 1965’s Strange Tales 165 we see a slightly older, seasoned veteran turned super-spy, now sporting a trademark eye patch. Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (originally an acronym for: Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division) fought against the rogue international organization known as HYDRA! S.H.I.E.L.D. (The Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate, as its sometimes referred) it is later revealed was first founded by Fury and Sgt. Rock to counteract Hydra’s evil plans. Oddly enough in his third appearance, and his first appearance as an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (aka the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) it appears as though Nick Fury is in fact African American (just check out the cover!); I am not certain if that was intentional, or a printing error, but it was quickly fixed in the following issue. In 2000’s ‘The Ultimates’ Nick Fury was made in the likeness of Samuel L. Jackson, prior to his casting in ‘the Avengers’ film. Irony?
Speaking of Avengers, THE AVENGERS first Assembled in 1963, initially consisting of Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, the Wasp, and The Hulk taking on none-other than Thor’s evil half-brother LOKI, the god of mischief. Another major Avengers villain (created by Stan Lee), the ABOMINATION first gave the Hulk a beat-down in ‘Tales to Astonish’ #90 (1967). In ‘Tales of Suspense’ #46, Iron Man is given a mechanical foil in the villainous Soviet-era CRIMSON DYNAMO! As fate would have it in Issue 52 of ‘Suspense’, (1964) Stan Lee introduced code-name: BLACK WIDOW (aka Natalia “Natasha” Alianovna Romanova / Romanoff) who is an on-again/off-again Russian, Triple-Agent, typically working for SHEILD and has been known to ‘get-around’ the Marvel universe, if you know what I mean (Spidey, Cap, Daredevil, Iron Man, etc…). Her first appearance in the Avengers was as a villainess in issue 29 (1966) followed by her trademark skintight black outfit first featured in Amazing Spider-man 86 (1970). The Black Widow has been a part of the Avengers from time to time since then.
Issue 57, of ‘Tales of Suspense’, was also ironically the first appearance of a bow-and-arrow-themed super-villain called HAWK-EYE (also created by… you guessed it: Stan Lee), where he ‘teamed-up’ (wink wink) with the Black Widow. Hawkeye later redeemed himself and joined up with the Avengers as well in Avengers #16! (1965). Captain America had also been re-introduced into mainstream comics by this series during Avengers issue 4 where it was revealed that the WWII veteran / super soldier had been in suspended animation and was revived to fight another day, and of course later became the team’s undisputed leader.
As previously mentioned, the most iconic of all Marvel heroes, the Amazing SPIDER-MAN first got bit by that radioactive (or genetically altered) spider and started out web-slinging in Amazing Fantasy 15 and soon gained his own series right around this time (the early 60’s). Spidey was unique in that he was actually a teenager, but not a sidekick; he was nerdy and had girl trouble. The first issue of ‘The Amazing Spider-man’ actually featured the Fantastic Four as guest stars, which was the first in a series of random cross-overs which became a staple at Marvel Comics. After all, they all operated out of New York they were bound to run into one another from time to time. Teenage Peter Parker’s arch-nemesis, Doc-Ock premiered in issue 3, while the Green Goblin started his criminal career in issue 14. Unlike many early superheroes, almost his entire rogues gallery was established right off the bat in the first 20 or so issues. Daredevil’s arch nemesis, the KINGPIN of Crime (Wilson Fisk) actually originated in the Amazing Spider-man title (Issue 50: ‘Spider-man No more’, 1967); the two vigilantes (‘Your Friendly Neighborhood Spidey’ and ‘the Man Without Fear’ from Hell’s Kitchen) often shared rogues since they lived literally a few neighborhoods away from one another.
Meanwhile a few blocks further down, the Fantastic Four’s Baxter Building became the host for several new characters debuts throughout the mid-60’s including: the Inhumans (Fantastic Four 45), the SILVER SURFER (FF 48, 1966), the Herald of GALACTUS: Devourer of Worlds (let’s see that on a resume!), a certain Wakanda King, the BLACK PANTHER (#52: the first major African American superhero, not affiliated with ‘the Black Panther’ movement of the 60’s a few years later), the Kree / Ruul alien races (65), and don’t forget those pesky, evil, (extraterrestrial) shape-shifting SKRULLS!!! (Issue 2)
As you can see the Silver Age was not only the beginning of the Marvel Universe, but a reinvention of the classic DC characters and a renaissance of new characters and talents for comics in general!
To be continued… Part 3: The Bronze Age!
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