It’s a staggering thought: Many of the Marvel comics characters that dominate modern movies were created, by a handful of talented artists and writers, within the space of little more than a year about five decades ago.
Sure, everybody knows Marvel of the early 60s was an a creative hothouse. But it’s truly impressive how quickly the staff turned out one soon-to-be classic comic and character after another.
It started with Fantastic Four No. 1, with a cover date of November 1961. An important word about cover dates: Then, as now, comics and magazines were given cover dates that were slightly in advance of the period they were actually available. I’m guessing that if you went to a newsstand (remember those?) today, in early October, you’d find November or December or even January editions of many monthly magazines. The practice was (is?) aimed at making comics and magazines look like they have a longer shelf life (literally). So while FF was dated November 1961, it was in the hands of fans weeks before that.
Writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby (with inker George Klein) introduced Reed Richards and the rest of the FF in that November 1961 issue and Marvel published several issues until, six months later, the first issue of The Incredible Hulk came out in May 1962. To create just the Fantastic Four would be an accomplishment for any two men. But for Lee and Kirby to create the Hulk within weeks or months is truly impressive.
Then things got crazy.
August 1962 saw the publication of Amazing Fantasy No. 15, which fans know introduced Spider-Man and his mild-mannered alter ego, Peter Parker. Lee and artistic genius Steve Ditko get the credit here for creating one of the world’s most enduring superhero characters.
That same month, August 1962, saw Journey into Mystery No. 83, with Lee and his brother, Larry Lieber, behind the plot and script and Kirby and inker Joe Sinnott introducing none other than Thor.
(Now keep in mind that during this time, Marvel continued to produce follow-up issues of FF and Hulk.)
In September 1962, Lee, Lieber, Kirby and Dick Ayers gave the world Tales to Astonish No. 35, introducing scientist Henry Pym, better known as Ant-Man.
Remember, by this point, we’re still not a year past the introduction of the FF.
By March 1963, another major character was introduced when Iron Man debuted in Tales of Suspense No. 39. Lee and Lieber and artist Don Heck were the men behind the future Avenger.
That same month, the unexpected response to Amazing Fantasy No. 15 led to the debut of Amazing Spider-Man No. 1, by Lee and Ditko.
The Marvel era was firmly in place in September 1963 with the debut of Avengers No. 1, featuring characters from the recent Marvel comics teaming up. Lee and Kirby and inker Ayers were reacting to – but actually topping – DC’s Justice League.
So, in the space of less than two years – little more than a year if you’re counting only the debuts of most of these characters – Lee, Kirby, Ditko and their cohorts gave us characters that not only entertained many readers but laid the foundation for the biggest movie hits of today.