Monday, November 19, 2007

More Fifties classics from Marvel

The ever-reliable and informative Marvel Masterworks Resource Page has recently announced that late February will see the publication of the second volume of an Atlas Era Heroes book. This 240 page hardback will reprint the controversial Captain America "Commie Smasher" stories from the 1950s (which, in a bit of revisionist history in 1972, Marvel claimed featured a Captain America impostor). Other stories from the same period will include the Human Torch and Bill Everett Sub-Mariner strips.

Whilst Marvel's Sixties strips have been reprinted countless times, their 1950s material hasn't had nearly as much exposure. Recent years have rectified this oversight and Atlas Era Heroes Volume 2 will be the fifth book in a steadily growing line of Fifties collections.

Previous volumes in this series are Atlas Era Heroes Volume 1, Atlas Era Tales To Astonish, Atlas Era Tales of Suspense, and, most recently, Atlas Era Strange Tales which reprinted pre-code horror comics. (Although Marvel Comics of the Fifties have become known as Atlas Comics, "Atlas" was only the name of the distributor. The company was still Timely Comics back then.)

Although arguably not as mature in tone as the EC Comics of the 1950s, these comics are still worth a look as they contain artwork by some of the finest comic artists of the period. The aforementioned Bill Everett is there, as are Joe Maneely, and early John Romita amongst others. The stories themselves range from the mundane to the bizarre, but they all display a firm grasp of telling a short complete story clearly and tidily, with an emphasis on plot rather than soap-style relationships. A skill that seems forgotten in most US comics today.

Some of these strips were reprinted in Britain in the 1950s, in long-forgotten black and white L.Miller comics, but in these quality volumes the strips appear in their original context, in chronological order (not that it matters for these are complete stories) and in full colour. The books can be expensive, but with the current weak dollar against the pound, it's often worthwhile looking up comics dealers on to buy them directly from the USA. Even with a charge of around $11 airmail postage it still often works out cheaper than buying them from UK outlets.

UPDATE: As can be seen from the samples below, the reprints seem to be very faithful to the originals. The Human Torch page on the left is from Young Men No.24, compared to the restored version on the right from Atlas Era Heroes Vol.1. - and in case you were wondering about the somewhat camp title of the comic, nothing could be further from the truth. Back then, comics with titles such as Young Men and, I kid you not, magazines called Man to Man and Man's Action were considered to be tough-sounding titles for "real men"!

And here, on the left, is the original cover of Strange Tales No.8 (taken from the excellent website, - a place all comic fans should visit) compared to the reprint version from Atlas Era Strange Tales on the right:

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