Comics had been priced at 10 cents for since 1922, but after 40 years of inflation, cutting back on pages and reducing expenses had reached a breaking point. Dell Comics had raised their price of 32 page comic to 15 cents in early 1961. Between the 10 and 15 cent price increase some titles had an issue with no price on the cover of their comics (Example shown: Huckleberry Hound #9 from November 1960). The Dell books were likely the first to raise their prices due to the need to split their income from comics with Western Printing and Lithography, who held the licence for the characters, hired the talent to create the comics and printed them. Western likely needed to pay something to the companies they were licencing the characters from as well. This would lead to stresses that would cause the companies to split their partnership in the near future. By the end of 1961 other publishers raised the prices of their 32 page comics to 12 cents DC would print an apology and explanation for raising the price in their comic books. The decision to keep the price of comics low would hurt the industry in terms of distribution and retail in the future.
A major split in the largest comics publisher occurred in 1961. Western Printing and Lithography had the licensing rights to many (if not most) popular children's characters. They hired editors, artists and writers to make comic books with those characters. Dell would "buy" the books, put their logo on the cover (Western did the actual printing) and get them distributed around the world. The comics would be distributed by American News until 1957, then Dell would do their own distribution. Dell had raised the price of the comics from 10 cents to 15 cents while the other publishers only raised them to 12 cents. The two sides argued over money and decided to break up the business relationship.
Dell Comics hired popular cover artist LB Cole to be an editor and artists & writers to create comics. A handful of creators (most notably John Stanley of Little Lulu fame) working for Western Printing & Lithography decided to work for Dell. They also got some talent, particularly from the lower paying Charlton comics to work for them. Dell would publish a mix of public domain, original characters and a lot of licensed books. Among them were Alvin and the Chipmunks, Mission: Impossible, The Monkees, The Beverly Hillbillies and Betwitched. Their comics still carried the 15 cent price tag. In 1963 DJ Arneson took over the editing duties. When Arneson left in 1973 to become a full time freelance writer Dell stopped publishing comics. It appears that the first Dell produced comic of around this period was Around The Block with Dunc and Loo #1 (July 1961) which only went 8 issues. Their next title, Combat #1 (August 1961) by long time creator and veteran Sam Glanzman was one of their most successful going 40 issues and ending in 1973. Dell had started publishing these books before the Western created series had switched over to the Gold Key banner.
Behind the Scenes - Lost Briefcase!
According to Albert Delacourt (Dell employee and son of Dell Founder George Delacourt) somebody from Western Printing and Lithograph had accidentally left their briefcase behind in Helen Meyer office. Helen discovered that it contained a complete file of Westerns costs. Meyer had the art department make copies of all the papers, then called up said executive and returned the briefcase. When it came to the next round of negotiations for buying comics, Helen had a distinct advantage.
Marvel published their first new superhero title of the 1960s with Fantastic Four #1 (On Sale Date: August 1961). The characters were created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. This title merged three elements that were popular in comics at that time. Science Fiction (the characters were copies of Jack's previous Challengers of the Unknown), Monsters (the most popular character being the Thing) and of course, Superheroes. But there was a 4th element that lead to the series success. It was very different from other superhero books. In DC Comics the characters in a team got along just fine and any problems between them were resolved rather quickly. In Fantastic Four the Thing (Ben Grimm) looked like a monster and his appearance scared people. This lead to him going through periods of being cranky and/or depressed, he would often get angry at other members of the team and fight them. The Thing's range of emotions within his tough guy constitution made him a lovable, popular character on the team.
Other big differences were the Fantastic Four didn't have secret identities to hide. They were out in the open regarding their name and faces. The broke new ground in superhero comics by having the heroes to get married. In Fantastic Four Annual #3 (1965), two of the main characters, Reed Richards and Susan Storm got married. This was a big change from the times when the hero wouldn't even kiss the girl. Another first happened 3 years later in Fantastic Four Annual #6 (1968) when Reed and Sue had a baby named Franklin. Readers who stuck with the title got to slowly watch him grow up. Through out the series, and even today, we see this Superhero team have to go through the unique troubles of raising a super powered child while living a life of adventure, which is something other superhero comics have emulated.
In Tales to Astonish #27 (September 1961) did one of their typical weird / sci-fi stories about a scientist named Hank Pym who created formulas to shrink and grow himself. While he is small, ants attack him but one ant is friendly and helps him out. After the success of Fantastic Four, Stan Lee brought Hank Pym back in issue #35 (June 1962) as a superhero calling him Ant Man. Now not only could he shrink himself, he could control ants with his cybernetic helmet. In issue #44 (March 1963) he would modify his formula and shrink his girlfriend Janet Van Dyne. Along with the shrinking she would grow wings to fly with and eventually be able to give sting blasts. She would become a heroine called the Wasp. These two characters would eventually marry, then after some spousal abuse, divorce. Hank Pym would eventually take on several other costumed identities, including Giant Man, where he would grow a great deal bigger/stronger than the normal man. While neither of these characters have had successful solo titles, they've been constantly seen in superhero team titles. It should be noted Hank Pym is not the only character from the weird / sci-fi stories to become a hero. In Amazing Adventures #1 (March 1961), which pre-dated Fantastic Four #1, there was a Dr. Droom character who was a mysterious wizard type. Eventually his name would be changed into Dr. Druid and he would become a minor character in the Marvel Universe.
Aquaman #1 was published in November of 1961. Aquaman was a long time DC Superhero character that lived virtually exclusively in back up stories. His first appearance was in More Fun #73 (September 1941), which was also the first appearance of Green Arrow. Aquaman remained in that title until #issue 107 (November 1945), then appeared in back up stories in Adventure Comics starting with issue #103 (February 1946) and ending with #284 (March 1961). With Superheroes becoming popular again he was given a lead story tryout in Showcase Comics #30 to #33 (November 1960 to May 1961) and then this solo series. The character was created by artist Paul Norris and editor/writer Mort Weisinger. Oddly the character didn't have a human name or alter-ego, he was just Aquaman. His origin has changed a few times over the years, he started off as a son of an undersea explorer who discovered Atlantis and chose to remain there (in a oxygen filled, water sealed home) to learn it's secrets. The son, growing up under the sea grew super strong and learned to communicate with fish. It was only said the boy's mother died when he was a baby. In Adventure Comics #260 (March 1959) they retold his origin slightly now saying Aquaman was now the son of a human father and Atlantian mother. They also gave him the name of Arthur Curry. His origin has been further modified over the years. Aquaman's solo title would last 63 issues and end in May of 1978. He still appears regularly in DC Comics, as he is often a member of the Justice League of America. He also regularly gets a new solo series.
Did you know? - Despite being created in 1941 it wasn't until the first appearance of the Justice League of America in Brave and the Bold #28 (1960) that Aquaman first appeared on the cover of a DC comic book. That was 19 years of obscurity. Aquaman was the Rodney Dangerfeild of DC Superheroes.
Marvel seeing the success of the Thing in Fantastic Four tried to one up the character with the Hulk. In March of 1962 the published The Incredible Hulk #1. The Hulk was a combination of Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and science fiction all rolled up in one. Robert Bruce Banner was a scientist who was testing a new weapon called the Gamma Bomb. Acting on a dare, a teenager named Rick Jones was on the testing grounds when the bomb was about to go off. Robert runs off to get the kid out of the grounds and tells his assistant to stop the countdown while he's doing that. Robert finds out the hard way that his assistant is really a commie spy who wants to steal his research on Gamma bombs. The spy lets the countdown continue and the bomb goes off, Robert gets caught in the explosion but manages to get Rick Jones into a protective trench in time. The Gamma radiation turns Robert into the Hulk. This character was created by Jack Kirby. The first volume of his series would last 6 issues. Within those issues how the Hulk's power worked changed, often issue by issue, with nothing really clicking.
He would then move on to co-star in Tales to Astonish, his first appearance in issue #59 (June 1964) has him fighting Giant Man and future issues half the comic are solo Hulk stories drawn (and likely plotted by) Steve Ditko. It is in issue #60 that it becomes established that Bruce Banner turns into the Hulk when he gets angry and becomes Banner again when the Hulk is no longer angry. When Marvel got a better distribution deal they named Tales to Astonish to The Incredible Hulk with issue #102 (January 1968).
Also in February of 1962 Marvel began to bring back their superheroes from the Golden Age. In Fantastic Four #4 we saw the return of the Namor the Submariner. While the character was something of an anti-hero his first incarnation, in this series he was an outright villain at first. The character is still regularly appears in Marvel Comics and occasionally gets his own series. He's bounced back and forth from hero to villain over the years, but he's usually a hero.
In Amazing Fantasy #15 (June 1962) Spider-Man first appeared. This title started out as Amazing Adventures, with issue #8 it turned into Amazing Adult Fantasy, then with this final issue turned into Amazing Fantasy. Spider-Man was a character that almost wasn't published. When Stan Lee went to his boss/uncle Martin Goodman with the character, he didn't want to publish it. Martin felt Spider-Man would creep out the kids and not be very popular. Since Amazing Fantasy was about to end, Stan published it anyway, figuring nobody would care since it's the last issue of the title. He was wrong, the character was very popular and Marvel decided to cancel the Hulks regular title to make room for Spider-Man. The first appearance of Spider-Man is done by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, who are also the recognized co-creators of the character. There are two different versions to how Spider-Man was created. The most well known one is told by Stan Lee, who says he came up with the idea of Spider-Man and gave it to Jack Kirby to do. Jack drew 5 pages and gave them to Stan Lee. Stan says he didn't like Jacks version of the character because he was too thick and powerful where Stan wanted a thin, unassuming teenager character. Stan then gave the idea to Steve Ditko who came up with the version we all know and love today.
The 2nd version of the story comes from Joe Simon, Jack Kirby's long time partner. He says Jack Kirby pitched the idea of a Spider-Man to Stan Lee, who agreed to it. Jack did his 5 pages and handed them in. While Steve Ditko was handing in some artwork at Marvel he saw Jack's Spider-Man. He noticed it was very similar to the Fly, a title Simon and Kirby worked on for Archie Comics some years earlier. He pointed out the similarities to Stan Lee, who agreed. Stan then asked Steve Ditko to come up with an alternative version of Spider-Man. Which version is correct (if either of them) we may never know. Stan Lee kept repeating his version of the creation, but admits he has a very bad memory. Jack Kirby, who did claim to have created Spider-Man passed away. Steve Ditko version of events more closely aligns with the Joe Simon version, but his main bone of contention was that Stan Lee had taken/was given sole credit for creating Spider-Man. Ditko ferociously argued in his books that his creation of Spider-Man's costume, web shooters and other aspects makes him a co-creator.
That same month, Thor first appeared in Journey into Mystery #83. He also took over the title name (but kept the numbering) with issue #126. With issue #502 it turned back into Journey into Mystery (still featuring Thor) then ended in 1998 with issue #521. At the time it was the highest numbered title was publishing. It would immediately restart again with a #1 to appeal to collectors and try and get more readers. The series would restart again for similar reasons. When Thor first came about, he was a doctor named Donald Blake who had a bad leg (and is called lame within the comic). While on Vacation Dr. Blake finds a cave and in it is a wooden stick, when he taps it on the ground Dr. Blake turns into Thor and the stick turns into mjolnir, an enchanted hammer. In the future, they would separate Thor from Donald Blake. He would simply be himself in a depowered form and later they'd have him merge with other people. Over the years they've had other people wield Thor's Hammer, including Jane Foster who was Donald Blake's love interest in the early issues of Thor.
Thor was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. He was loosely inspired from Norse mythology from Thursday is named from. Much of Thor's supporting cast, his father Odin, his step brother Loki, his love interest Sif and others were also inspired by the same source. Kirby was very fascinated by mythology and repeatedly created new mythological characters, families, cities and entire worlds. With the success of Thor came Hercules (first appearance Journey Into Mystery Annual #1 (June 1965) and eventually a pantheon of Greek/Roman inspired characters. Hercules would frequently appear in Thor and on various superhero teams. He would also on occasion get his own series or mini series.
Marvel published it's 1st Annual(s) with Strange Tales Annual No. 1 and Millie the Model Annual #1 (July 1962). They were both 25 cents and were 72 pages. The Strange Tales Annual was reprints from their suspense/horror/monster stories done by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Don Heck. The Millie the Model Annual contained all new stories by Stan Lee and Stan Goldberg. The stories are designed for new readers, introducing you to Millie, the modeling agency she works for and her cast of characters (boss Mr. Hanover, rival Chili and boyfriend & photographer Clicker Holbrook). Stan Goldberg did more than just draw Millie stories, he also inked and coloured them. Goldberg was Marvel's colourist at the time and came up with the colours for their characters. Eventually Goldberg would work for Archie Comics and had a very long career there, which included doing the Archie newspaper comic strip. Marvel would continue doing annuals with their superhero titles. They would use them in a variety of ways, sometimes finishing a story from the regular monthly series, start stories or just one off stories. They've also used them to do company wide events, running story lines through all of them.
Also in July 1962, Marvel converted it's monster/horror title Strange Tales into a superhero title featuring the Human Torch from the Fantastic Four. This started in issue #101. Of interesting note, Jerry Siegel would write some of the stories in the run. Marvels attempt to sell the new Human Torch as a solo character never worked out. Other heroes would get their debut in Strange Tales, eventually replacing the Human Torch as lead feature in the series.
Western decided to go into comics publishing, meaning they got to decide for themselves which titles to publish, at what frequency and at what price. They did so under a Gold Key logo, which is what the company was known as for readers. Their first 8 comics with the Gold Key logo was on the newsstands on June 1962. Shown here is Snagglepuss #1, which oddly has "Now Only 12 cents" on the cover despite it being the first issue. The kept the Now Only until September of 1963, after which they switched it to Still Only. Among the other titles published this month were Bugs Bunny Showtime #86, Marge's Little Lulu #165, Walter Lantz Woody Woodpecker #73, Checkmate #1, King Leonardo and His Short Subjects #1 and Rocky and His Fiendish Friends #1
The other book to come out from Gold Key in June of 1962 would be a superhero title, Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom. His series would go 31 issues, but it stopped in 1969 at issue #27. Issues 28-31 were published in 1981-82. The first issue was drawn by Bob Fujitani and the writer was possibly Paul S. Newman. The cover was painted by Richard M. Powers, who would win a Hugo award for his painted covers for Sci-Fi books. The character would gain his powers via surviving a nuclear accident, but it wouldn't be until issue #5 that he got a costume. It should be known that Gold Key / Western Printing and Lithograph had done original characters while working with Dell Comics. When the two sides split, Turok Son of Stone continued on with a Gold Key logo.
Gold Key would do other heroes like Magnus Robot Fighter 4000AD (November 1962). The series was written and drawn by Russ Manning. In 4000AD Earth was ruled by tyrannic robots and Magnus trained to fight them. He demolished the metallic robots using barehanded karate chops. The character was a created via a mix of editor Craig Chase ideas for a sci-fi hero book involving humans vs robots. Russ Mannings was a sci-fi fan and wanted to be a part of creating the character. He made up a proposal and it went through several revisions by editors Craig Chase and Zetta DeVoe. It should also be noted that Russ Mannings wife Dodie had a significant hand in creating the character. Russ original idea involved the character using a hammer but Dodie suggested the barehanded karate chops instead. This odd character would be the most popular of Gold Key's original heroes. His series would go until October 1976, ending with issue #46.
Western would publish comics for the newsstands until the very early 1980s, it should be said that their titles were all reprints for a few years prior to shutting down the line. They would also create books for retail outlets under the Whitman name, selling them in bags of 3. That stopped in the mid 80s. The reason for their downfall was due to their licensed titles were aimed at young kids that weren't buying comics in large numbers anymore, leading to a low sales. Their traditional licenses from Disney (cartoons and movies), Hanna Barbara and Warner Brothers cartoons were no longer as popular with young kids. Licenses that they had that could have been valuable were granted to other companies, particularly Star Trek right before the movies came out was now being done by Marvel. New licenses that could have been popular for them (Conan, Planet of the Apes, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, GI Joe, Transformers) were being done by other publishers, Marvel in particular. Also, unlike Marvel or DC they didn't own their characters so they couldn't generate licencing money from them, instead they were a licensor and were paying to use them. Eventually Westerns original characters like Turok, Dr. Solar, Magnus Robot Fighter and others were bought and licensed out to other publishers who would make new comics with those characters.
Did you know? For a time Russ Manning would write and draw the Tarzan and Star Wars Comic Strips.
In December of 1962 Iron Man made his debut in Tales of Suspense #39. In this issue we meet Tony Stark, a brilliant inventor of technology. He's in Vietnam testing some new weapons he invented to help the war effort there when he is ambushed by the Vietcong. As a result of the fight Tony's heart catches shrapnel and has a limited time to live. The Vietnamese warlord (Wong Chu) that is responsible for the attack captures Tony and forces him to invent weapons for him. Tony instead invents an Iron Man armor that will both keep his heart working and allows him to overpower Wong Chu. This character was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but his first story was not drawn by Kirby. Artist Don Heck drew the first story (and created the look of Tony Stark and his supporting characters) and Stan's brother Larry Lieber wrote the script.
The Iron Man original bulky gray armor would soon change to a more popular, sleeker design created by Steve Ditko and given Red and Gold colors. The armor regularly gets modified and redesigned on a regular basis but it usually keeps the red and gold colors with the circle in the chest. In 1968 Iron Man would move from Tales of Suspense to his own book. The early issues has Iron Man fighting super powered villains from Communist countries and the like.
In March of 1963 Spider-Man would get his 1st solo title. It was called Amazing Spider-Man and it was drawn by Steve Ditko and written by Stan Lee. Ditko would soon end up plotting the series with Stan doing the script. It was in these early issues that most of Spider-Man's main villains were created, not limited to The Vulture, Dr. Octopus, Sandman, The Lizard, Electro, Mysterio, Green Goblin, Kraven the Hunter, The Scorpion, The Chameleon and The Molten Man. Ditko would leave Spider-Man with issue #38 due to a dispute with Marvel regarding Spider-Man being licensed for cartoons with none of the verbally promised money being paid to him. Ditko and Stan Lee were no longer speaking to each other. With issue #39 John Romita took over the series and brought with him his years of working on romance titles. He injected some soap opera elements into the series and the characters became more visually appealing. This title would go on to become Marvels biggest seller and the character most associated with the Marvel Company.
In March of 1963, Marvel went back to World War II. They published Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1. The early stories was done by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but others would take over the comic. One might wonder why Marvel would suddenly do a War comic when superheroes were doing so well for them. Apparently the book came out because of a bet. Marvel owner Martin Goodman was wondering why their titles were selling so well. He thought it might have been because of the adjectives in the titles, Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man, Mighty Thor, etc.. But Stan believed it was because of 'Marvel Method' of having artist Jack Kirby draw the story with a rough plot and Stan scripting it afterwards. To prove it Stan made a bet with his uncle Martin. He said they could put out an outdated war title with a horrible name and it would still sell. He even advertised it as "The war mag for people who hate war mags". Stan won his bet. The title ran for 167 issues, ending in 1981. It should be noted that with issue #120 (April 1974) the title was filled with reprints of earlier stories.
Sgt. Fury was also known as Nick Fury. His Howling Commandos was diverse and multi ethnic group consisting of: "Dum Dum" Dugan (Irish), Gabriel Jones (African American), Dino Manelli (Italian), Izzy Cohen (Jewish), "Reb" Ralston (easy going Kentucky native), "Junior" Juniper (College Educated Ivy League man). "Junior" would be killed in issue #4 and was replaced with Percival "Pinky" Pinkerton (British). 40 years later Stan Lee said he considered "Pinky" to be gay, but his sexuality was never discussed in the comic. Nick Fury was a gruff, cigar chomping American. Within the issue they would sometimes feature the WWII Captain America and even show a younger, pre super powered Reed Richards from Fantastic Four.
Artist John Severin also tells a story that before Jack Kirby began working for Marvel in the 50s he had approached him about a comic strip submission. It was about "a tough, cigar chomping sergeant with a squad of oddball GIs" fighting in Europe during World War II. John had turned him down but he believes Jack used those ideas in creating this title. Nick Fury and "Dum Dum" Dugan would soon be brought into the then present day Marvel Universe as a high tech, James Bond like Spy. More on that later.
DC would use one of their Weird/Suspense titles for a Superhero team. In My Great Adventure #80 (April 1963) The Doom Patrol made their debut. DC had wanted a superhero team that would appeal to the readers enjoying the weird stories. Writers Arnold Drake, Bob Haney and artist Bruno Premiani provided them with one. The Doom Patrol would gain a cult following because it was one of the strangest superhero teams ever and a pretty radical departure from standard DC heroes. The team was lead by an intellectual in a wheelchair called The Chief. The heroes consisted of Elasti-Woman, Negative Man and Robotman. Elastic-Woman was an actress who's career was ruined by her shape shifting ability. Negative Man was a pilot that was now radioactive and wrapped up like a mummy to protect those around him. Robotman was an race car driver that got into a horrible accident, but they managed to save his brain and it was put inside a robot. Other strange characters would join the team in time.
Many parallels can be drawn between this team and the Fantastic Four and later Marvel's X-men which debuted 3 months later. My Greatest Adventure would be renamed The Doom Patrol with issue #86 (January 1964). The series "end" with issue #121 (July 1968). Much to everybody's surprise DC and the creative team decided to kill the team with the last issue. Then 4 years later issue #122 to #124 would appear on the newsstands, but the stories were reprints. Due to it's cult following DC would try to bring it back several times. The most notable these revival was a run written by Grant Morrison, who developed an fan following by cranking up the strange factor by 10. Some heroes from the original Doom Patrol (Beast Boy and Robot Man in particular) run still continue in other DC titles.
Also in April of 1963 Dr. Strange would make his first appearance in Strange tales #110. This Marvel character was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, but Stan acknowledged it "t'was Steve's idea" when he wrote to Jerry Bails just prior to the character's debut. Dr. Strange was different than most Marvel heroes. He was a master of the mystical arts and he fought villains by using spells. Stan Lee would come up with all sorts of wacky phrases like "By the Hosts of the Hoary Hoggoth!" "By the power of the Dread Dormammu" and "By the omnipotent Oshtur!" Steve Ditko would draw these fantastic psychedelic dimensions that defied the physical laws of nature. Eventually Dr. Strange would take over the series and the title would be renamed to Doctor Strange with issue #169 (June 1968). The title would end with issue #183. Dr. Strange would be brought back several times, both in solo books and within Superhero teams. He also pops up in random titles all round the Marvel Universe, usually helping the heroes with some supernatural situation.
DC continued to bring back their Golden Age Superheroes. In Justice League of America #21 (June 1963) the premier superhero team of the 1940, the Justice Society of America reappeared. They would make more appearances and eventually get their own series. The heroes were generally older than the standard hero, (the ages of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are typically ignored because of the inconsistency) and sometimes the mantle would be passed down to a younger hero (sometimes a relative) to fill their place on the team.
July of 1963 two new superhero teams appeared from Marvel Comics. The first I'll write about is The X-men. It featured teenagers that were "mutants," the next step in human evolution. They were shunned by society scared that they were being replaced. Not helping matters was that the mutants would discover their powers usually during their teenage years while undergoing some dramatic (or traumatic) experience. New to the powers they would not know how to control it causing all sorts of destruction around them. The team would be lead by a wheelchair bound Professor Xavier. He wanted mutants and normal humans to live together peacefully. Their main enemy was Magneto who wanted mutants to fight back against humans, recognize themselves as superior beings and forcefully take over the world. Over the years people would draw parallels between the X-men and civil rights movements of both African Americans and the LGBTQ+ movements. The other X-Men were Cyclops (who had a powerful eye beam) Marvel Girl (limited psychic and telekinetic powers), Angel (had wings and could fly), Iceman (had ice/cold powers) and Beast (strong and athletic). The comic did well for a while but with issue 67 it began reprinting earlier stories.
The other superhero team to debut this month was the Avengers. This group was like the Justice League of America for Marvel Comics as it featured many of their already established heroes. The original line up included Thor, Iron Man, Wasp, Ant Man (Hank Pym) and the Hulk. By the 2nd issue Hulk would leave the team and would end up fighting them along side Namor the Sub-Mariner. In the 4th issue they discovered a frozen Captain America in a block of ice at the bottom of the ocean. They thawed him out and he would join the team. Soon he would end up being the team leader. The Avengers have gone through many, many roster changes with a wide variety of heroes joining the team at one time or another. But the "big 3" of the group is Thor, Iron Man and Captain America and usually at least one of them is on it.
In February of 1964 Marvel started another long lasting superhero title. This one called Daredevil who was a blind man but with heightened senses and a special "radar" sense that let him know where things were around him at all times. Daredevil was Matt Murdock, as a young boy his father (Battling Murdock) strongly encouraged him to study hard and do well in school. He made a promise to his deceased wife that Matt would become somebody smart and not like him. Matt's father was an over the hill boxer on his way down with no other skills. While Matt yearned to wrestle and play sports with the other kids, he instead listened to his father and studied. The other kids would call him "Daredevil" as a joke.
Out for a walk, Matt Murdock saw a truck about to run over an old blind/deaf man. Heroically he rushed out into traffic and pushed the man out of harms way. The truck, as it was speeding through traffic dropped one of the barrels in the back, splashing out toxic waste into Matt Murdocks eyes. He became blind but received his powers via the radiation and would train himself to use them. Meanwhile Battling Murdock began to win many of his fights, and become a major contender again. Then he discovered his promoter was fixing them, paying his opponents to dive and now wanted him to dive. Matt was at the fight, watching it when his father decided he wasn't going to dive and fight to win. And win he did, but the promoter didn't like that and quickly had him killed.
Matt would graduate from Law School and become a defense attorney, like his father wanted. On the side he would put on a costume and fight criminals starting with the promoter that had his father killed. Later on in the series as a lawyer Matt would have to represent a client he fought and captured as Daredevil. Often he would try to talk them into accepting a plea bargain and get some counseling of some sort to help rehabilitate them.
Daredevil was created by Stan Lee and... Bill Everett! Yes, the same Bill Everett that created Namor the Sub-Mariner back in 1939. Stan Lee needed somebody to help him co-create more superheroes as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko already had full schedules. Bill Everett was working a full time job as an art director for the Eton Paper Corporation, but agreed to do the Daredevil book. Bill's daughter said at the time she had vision problems and was technically blind. She was supposed to wearing glasses but she did not like them and would get around the house just by knowing where things were. According to Wendy her father used this to make Daredevil a blind hero with a radar sense. It needs to be said that Jack Kirby had some involvement in creating the visual look of the character and his original billy club prior to Everett's involvement. Everett was unable to get the first issue under deadline due to his day time managerial job. Other artists were brought in (Steve Ditko being one of them) to help finish the issue. Joe Orlando would draw issues #2-4. With issue #5 former EC artist Wally Wood would take over the title. With issue 7 Wally Wood would redesign Daredevil's costume to the more familiar red version that remained with the character for nearly all of the characters existence. Wood would also alter how Daredevil's radar sense worked, the interlocking double D chest logo and redesigned the billy club to make it also a grappling hook.
Also in March of 1964 Batman got a "new look." This coincided with a change of editors. Previously Batman was edited by Jack Schiff who was following the successful wonky oddball stories editor Mort Weisinger was having success with on Superman. But stories of Aliens and Time Travel didn't suit Batman and his sales suffered. DC decided to replace Schiff with Julie Schwartz who was having much success on the new Superhero titles. Schwartz would cut out the totally wacky stuff and focus more on Batman's now famous Rogue Gallery. He would also change the costume a bit, putting a yellow oval around a smaller black bat symbol to make it more distinctive and recognizable. Also changed was the books logo, the Batmobile, and the Batcave. Schwartz also made some changes to the cast as he had Batman's butler Alfred killed and created Aunt Harriet (but would bring back Alfred in Detective #356). Schwartz had Carmine Infantino draw some of the Batman stories and he would be the first to draw Batman without having Bob Kane's signature on the art. Prior to that the book was done at Bob Kane's studio where many ghost artists drew the comic without credit.
This all began in Detective Comics #327, which was 300 issues after the Batman made his debut. Schwartz also took over Batman with issue #164 at the same time as Detective Comics and the new look would also be present in that series as well. Of odd note, the "new look" first appeared inside World's Finest Comics #141 which was given to Mort Weisinger. Mort knew was Julie was doing and they made the changes apply across all 3 titles. The sales of the book did improve. Helping the book even more would be the colourful & campy Batman TV show that started in 1966. After the show started the sales of the Batman solo book doubled to nearly 900,000 per month, which is the highest any comic had seen since the 1950s. Detective Comics got a 100,000 circulation bump as well. The TV show ran for 3 seasons and was very, very popular when it first began. So popular that it defined comic books for several generations. The POW! ZAP! SMASH! sound effects used in the show still gets used for headlines and more that discuss comics. As a result comic readers either loved or hated the show. Some loved it for what it was, a very funny show featuring Batman and many famous rogue villains. Others hated it as it would typecast comics as silly and campy and not something to be taken seriously. From the 70s and on certain parts of the comic industry wanted to be taken more seriously by the public and the media. It was felt that the TV shows impression (fueled by syndicated reruns) was making that difficult.
While the Batman TV show was popular Bob Kane would sign a new contract with DC Comics. Details of the contract are not public knowledge of course but from here on out DC would take over all creative aspects of the Batman books and the artists would receive credit for their work. Bob Kane would focus on paintings and animation.
Jim Warren's first published comic book was The Flintstones for the 1964 New York Worlds Fair. As a boy Jim went to the 1939 and 1940 Worlds Fair and had very fond memories of it. He was interested in getting into standard comic books and was seriously planning to create a new superhero character and have it debut at the Worlds Fair. Much to everybody's surprise he got the rights to publish a comic for the Worlds Fair, despite not having done a standard comic book before. DC owner Jack Liebowitz thought it was a given that DC would get the deal as they had previously. Warren's lawyer recommended not spending any money developing the comic book until all the contracts were negotiated and signed, after which there was 3 months left to produce the comic. That wasn't enough time to create a new character and produce the comic, so Jim went to Western Printing and Lithography and they agreed to do a Flintstone comic book for the event. The book had a print run of 500,000 and sold for 25 cents. The profits from it help subsidize Harvey Kurtzmans Help! and do new magazines.
In November 1964 Warren published Creepy #1 a black and white comic magazine devoted to horror stories. The first issue was edited by Russ Jones, but Warren ended up hiring Archie Goodman (who was an editor for Redbook magazine) to take over the editing duties. Archie was also the main writer as well, he was a multi talented man but as far as editors go you'll have a hard time finding a creator who worked with Archie Goodman to say there was a better editor in the business. And helping everyone along was a great crew of artists/storytellers. Among them were the old EC gang of horror artists like Jack Davis, Al Willaimson, Johnny Craig, Wally Wood, Joe Orlando, Reed Crandall, John Severin, George Evens and Frank Frazetta. Other big names include Alex Toth, Steve Ditko, Neal Adams, Gene Colan, Tom Sutton, Jeff Jones, Richard Corben, Russ Heath, Alex Nino, Mike Ploog, Bernie Wrightson and more. Creepy would go 145 issues until 1983 - but did put out 146 in 1985. Warren would also put out a magazine in the future devoted to a solo character, which would have a much longer stay in the comics market.
Behind the Scenes - The $35 dinner.
Jim Warren and his staff gathered up group of former EC artists to start the Creepy Magazine, he invited them all out to a very lavish free dinner. Jim made a very grandiose speech about how they were going to be a part of comic history and they would be doing important work. Then he told them he'd only be paying them $35 a page, which was a low page rate at the time. Nonetheless most of the artists didn't have anywhere else to go in the comic industry at that time and they did enjoy drawing those stories so Warren was doing the right magazine at the right time.
Dell Comics did a book with a black lead character, a first in newsstand comics. The comic was called Lobo and he was a cowboy. The series only went two issues (published in August 1965 and May 1966) but they were groundbreaking as the characters race is never mentioned and is treated like a regular white character. The first issue starts at the very end of the civil war, where the soldiers are told it's over. Lobo says he's done with fighting & killing and goes on a quest to live life as a pacifist. He travels to Texas and finds work as a cowboy. After a trip, most of the crew he was working with are robbed and murdered and he gets blamed for the crime. He goes on a quest to prove his innocence. He gets named Lobo because he is now a 'lone wolf.' Along the way he does his best to walk away from fights, avoid shooting his gun and helping people in need.
Lobo was created by Dell Comics editor and writer D. J. Arneson and artist Tony Tallarico. D. J. Arneson
told me in an interview in 2010:
I developed the original premise for Lobo (originally Black Lobo, a title Helen Meyer rejected as inappropriate at the timeĖthis was the mid-60s when civil rights and other social issues were volatile) from the book The Negro Cowboys by Philip Durham and Everett L. Jones; Dodd, Mead, 1965. The book sits in front of me on my desk.
On reading the book in 1965, I recognized the potential for a black comic book hero based on historical fact; the Buffalo Soldiers, the name given to African-American Union soldiers in the American Civil War. A number of those soldiers went west and became cowboys following the war and I conceived Black Lobo as a dramatic characterization of this little-known history. Again, this was 1965, a time when African-Americans were still referred to as Negroes, for example. Sit-ins, segregation and social upheaval were still entrenched in the United States. Martin Luther King was still very much in the future as a national figure and symbol of the revolution underway. The idea of a black comic book character, much less the title character in his own comic, was unusual to say the least. That Helen Meyer, a trail-blazer in her own right as the only female president of a major publishing company, and incidentally, the highest paid female executive in the country at the time, made the decision to publish Lobo is a tribute to her intelligence, foresight and sensitivity.
I added other elements to the original Black Lobo character concept, e.g.: Robin Hood, The Lone Ranger etc. as well as the familiar adventurous spirit of the American cowboy of popular western novels and cowboy movies of that time to dramatize and expand the character and story line to portray a black comic book hero; there were none at the time. The intention was to create a series, but that didnít happen as comic book historians and enthusiasts now know. Bummer.
Tony illustrated a mock-up cover, titled Black Lobo, which was presented to Helen Meyer along with the proposal I wrote based on what I described above. Helen Meyer agreed to publish the proposed comic book as Lobo.
I then wrote the script and Tony Illustrated the comic book from my script for which we were each paid Dellís going rates for writers and illustrators (embarrassing low, but that was a lifetime ago); that is, the rights to the character and the comic book were not bought by Dell but automatically became copyrighted Dell property as was the usual procedure for commissioned work. An entirely different process is followed for the contractual acquisition of original material. I mention this to underscore the fact that Lobo was not offered to Dell as a property created, owned or copyrighted by anyone outside the company.
In 1965 former comic writer / editor Harry Shorten would start up the Tower Comics line. Shorten would hire former Archie Jughead artist Samm Schwartz to be the editor of the comic line. Also working for them was artists Dan DeCarlo and Harry Luccy. Both artists were still working at Archie Comics and were very nervous about getting caught and fired. Even when Archie editors questioned them they'd deny doing any work outside of Archie. According to Dan DeCarlo Shorten tried luring away a lot of artists from Archie, offering better page rates. Archie responded by giving raising the page rates and threatening to fire anybody caught working for the competition. Towers most successful comic was Tippy Teen comic that was very Archie like. Going 25 issues, it started in September 1965 and ended in October 1969. Tippy also had some spin offs as well, the most significant of which was a series called Tippy's Friends Go Go and Animal that would go 15 issues between 1966 and 1969. Some of these stories would be reprinted by another publisher (Atlas/Seaboard) under the name Vickie in 1975.
Also starting in September 1965 was T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents which was a superhero team from Tower Comics. Because the former Archie artists didn't feel to comfortable doing Superheroes they hired Wally Wood to handle the superhero line of books. Of course Wood didn't do it all himself, he would hire a number of notable artists to do whatever work he didn't have time for. Among the artists were Gil Kane, Reed Crandall, Steve Ditko, Al Willamson, Dan Adkins, Mike Sekowsky, and Dick Giordano. The line of comics was designed to cash in on the two popular crazes at the time Superheroes and Spys. The team consisted of 3 heroes Dynamo who had Super Strength, NoMan who could turn invisible and transfer his mind into android bodies and Menthor who had various physic powers. Along with them was a crew of Thunder Squad, 4 'regular' humans who more fit the spy team mold, each with different areas of expertise. Later on in the series, another super powered character named The Raven would join. The superhero characters are said to be created or at least co-created by Wally Wood. T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents would go 20 issues ending in 1969, the last issue would be all reprints.
Tower Comics also has a number of short runs of solo hero books. Among them, Dynamo, NoMan, Undersea Agent, Fight the Enemy. Unique about the Tower Comics line was it's format. For the majority of it's run, the books were 64 pages for 25 cents. At the time the normal format was 32 pages for 12 cents. Both Harvey and Archie had success with that format with some titles. Samm Schwartz wanted all comic stories to be 10 pages. The stories were tightly plotted and both the art and dialogue were kept simple. Tower Comics ended in 1970, the exact reason for the demise has been unclear. Harry Shorten told Wally Wood that the books had always made money, but their distributor had squeezed them out. Fans have long suspected other comic book publishers had put pressure on the distributor to drop them. It's also possible that the different format with the short stories just didn't sell well enough. After Tower Comics line ended Harry Shorten and Samm Schwartz returned to Archie Comics.
Warren also wanted to start a companion horror title for Creepy named Eerie (September 1965). This magazine got an odd start. Jim Warren learned that somebody else was trying to secure the rights to the title Eerie. He got a bunch of artists together and had them produce an ashcan issue (Digest Sized booklet - 5 1/4" wide x 7 1/4" tall) of Eerie in less than 24 hours. He also had 3 couriers standing by to deliver the issues to Washington D.C. to get it copyrighted and to distribute the issue to 4 different states to show use of the name. Later somebody would make counterfeit copies of the ashcan issue and selling them for huge amounts. Jim Warren learned about this when the FBI visited his office to tell him about it. He would put out wanted posters in all his magazines offering $500 for information on the counterfeiters, but no information came. The FBI never arrested anybody either. The first issue of Eerie that would be distributed nationally would be issue #2 in December of 1965. Eerie would go 138 issues and end in 1983.
Warren Magazines were important in the comic industry because it gave readers a different format and different types of stories. Superheroes were all the rage but there was still some other genre books hanging on or being reintroduced to the readers. Creepy and Eerie came at the right time as all those kids who enjoyed reading EC comics as kids were now adults and were starting to collect back issues. Now they had something more recent to read by many of the same artists in a more adult appealing format. The magazine format was also helpful as distributors didn't balk on distributing it due to the lack of the Comics Code Stamp of Approval. The magazines could print material that standard comic publishers could not. Eventually the success of Warrens magazines would lead to the loosening up of the Comics Code guidelines.
In 1965 artist / editorial assistant Dick Giordano convinced Charlton to hire him to look after their comics line. Dick had been working on and off with Charlton since the 50s both as an artist and an employee. When he took over he made it his mission to get the Charlton comics to sell better. He couldn't help but notice Marvel gaining sales with their superheroes. Dick didn't really like superheroes but he hoped to gain sales by creating a line of 'Action Heroes' which used a mix of Charltons current superheroes and new non-super powered characters. He would get considerable help from Spider-Man and Dr. Strange co-creator Steve Ditko.
Charlton had brought back Captain Atom in Strange Suspense Stories #75 (April 1965) but did so via reprints. The character was first appeared in Space Adventures #33 (March 1960) in a story done by writer Joe Gill and artist Steve Ditko. When Ditko came back to Charlton they had Captain Atom take over the title and continue the numbering with #78 (October 1965). With Ditko on board, they turned the book into something similar to what Marvel was doing. They had full issue stories and the superheroes fighting super villains. Other 'Action Heroes' would make their debut in this title. Among the most important of these would be a new Blue Beetle (more on him later). With issue #84 (November 1966) Ditko would re-design Captain Atom again, but the title was canceled in December of the same year with issue #89.
In Captain Atom #83 (September 1966) Steve Ditko fresh from leaving Spider-Man created a whole new Blue Beetle. Previous Blue Beetles were super powered by this one was wasn't. Instead he was quite athletic (not unlike Spider-Man) and very technologically advanced. He used lots of gadgets to help him fight crime. His name was Ted Kord and after a few appearances in Captain Atom he would soon get his own dedicated title in June 1967. That title would only go 5 issues as well ending in November, 1968. A 6th that was already made was printed in a fanzine named The Charlton Portfolio. This version of The Blue Beetle would later be bought by DC Comics and would have a long life there. DC would later re-do the character and give him a different human identity and super powers again.
It should be noted this wasn't the only time Charlton tried to tinker with the Blue Beetle. They had actually given him a dedicated title again in June of 1964. This title had revamped the character somewhat, giving him a new origin and new powers. In this Blue Beetle #1 was still Dan Garrett, but he got his powers from a scarb he uncovered in an archaeology dig. By saying the words "Kaji Dha!" he turned into the Blue Beetle. He had Superman like powers, being super strong and able to fly, but he could also shoot lightning bolts through his eyes or hands. The new version of the Blue Beetle was done by writer Joe Gill and Tony Tallarico. This title would go 5 issues, then the numbering jumps to #50 and end with #54. The drastic change in the issues numbers came from switching a title called Unusual Tales into The Blue Beetle. The then new version of Blue Beetle would end in February 1966.
Within the 1967 Blue Beetle #1 would be back up story debuting The Question. He was a faceless detective that would go around investigating and fighting crime. It was here that Ditko started to inject his personal views into his work in a major way. Ditko had become an ardent believer of Ayn Rands' Objectivism philosophy. In short, there is no moral gray area. Everything is either black or white, right or wrong, good or evil with nothing in between. Ditko would use The Question to hammer this point over and over again in his stories. Outside of The Blue Beetle, The Question appeared in Mysterious Suspense #1 (August 1968) which was fully devoted to him. Like the some other Charlton Action Heroes, this character would be bought by DC and occasionally appear in their titles. Ditko would create a new character that was similar to The Question, but calling him Mr. A. The Mr. A stories were even more blunt in explaining how there was no gray area and everything was black and white.
Dick Giordano Action Heroes line didn't do very well in sales. Charlton was a very cheap publisher that did everything in house from producing the comics, to printing them, to distributing them and everything was done badly. Dick was frustrated that he put all this work into producing a line of comics he felt the market would respond to, but Charlton wouldn't put any money into promoting it. And even if they did, they were badly printed and Charltons distribution was very spotty. According to Giordano DC had 150 road men going around making sure their books were getting distributed. Charlton only had 5 men for the same job. DC Comics did notice what he was doing and in 1967 they hired him to edit some of their titles. Some of the freelancers that worked with Dick at Charlton would be hired to work for DC Comics.
Charlton had several other action heroes too. DC would buy 6 Charlton characters for $5,000 each plus a royalty when they got used. The characters were Judo Master, Peace Maker, Sarge Steel, Nightshade, Blue Beetle and Captain Atom. Peter Canon... Thunderbolt was bought by artist Pete Morisi and was used with his permission for a DC 6 issue L.A.W. mini series that featured the former Charlton characters.
Behind the Scenes - The $5,000 gift.
Writer / Editor Roy Thomas first professional work in comics was Son of Vulcan #50 (January 1966). When Dick Giordano discovered how cheap and willing Charlton was to sell their characters, he bought the rights to Son of Vulcan and gave them to Roy Thomas as a gift.