Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

“I didn’t know Future Man used a life battery!” Marvel Comics on Earth-616

Where DC Comics only occasionally showed us what the DCU’s Silver Age comics were like, Marvel wasted no time establishing Earth-616 had its own version of Marvel Comics, publishing their own version of Fantastic Four. We saw Stan Lee and Jack Kirby of Earth-616 in FF #10, working on the plot for the next issue. They made semiregular appearances for years afterwards, as did multiple other Marvel staffers.

But before we get into the Silver Age, we need to start with the Golden Age of Earth-616.

On Earth-Two, Siegel and Shuster created Superman based on the wild newspaper accounts of a superhuman vigilante. On Earth-616, they either made up Superman as they did in our world, or they “vibed” on Earth-Two’s version the way Earth-One’s writers did (there’s no indication MU writers pick up on the DCU that way, but I don’t rule it out). Superman, then Batman, were smash hits for DC so other comics creators began working on similar ideas.

Carl Burgos was one of them. When heard about Professor Horton’s flaming android, “the human torch” on the radio or saw him in flight, he had the same insight Earth-Two’s Siegel and Shuster did: this was a real-life character who’d make a fantastic comic book.

Burgos pitched the idea to Martin Goodman at Timely. Goodman liked it and so did readers. News reports couldn’t capture the shock of this flaming, flying being the way a four-color comic book could. And Burgos didn’t have to be restrained by facts.

When a mysterious merman appeared on the New York docks, Bill Everett saw his chance to do the same thing. Sub-Mariner joined the Marvel roster, with similar success. Like comics in the DCU, the stories of the Torch and Namor printed on 616 wouldn’t match ours. Bill Everett knew nothing about Namor’s life in Atlantis and I can’t see Namor sharing.

And then came Captain America. When Steve Rogers began his career in 1941, the government knew it not only had a hero on its hands, but a PR bonanza. As shown in Marvels #1, the existence of “marvels” like Namor and the Human Torch had shaken public confidence; showing the United States had a certified 100 percent patriotic “marvel” fighting for it did a lot to fix that. Quite possibly President Roosevelt, like his counterpart on Earth-Two, saw superhuman power as a potential asset in the looming war; showing the public the marvels could be heroes would be a plus.

So the government reached out to Goodman and proposed an authorized comic book, dramatizing Cap’s adventures. Goodman tapped Simon and Kirby for the job, though as in our world they probably didn’t stick around, perhaps getting the itch to create characters of their own.

Authorized though the books might be, they weren’t any more accurate than the tales of Namor and the Torch. They couldn’t have shown Cap’s true identity (Strange Tales #114 says otherwise, but there’s no way that could have been true) and they’d have played up Bucky as the all-American kid sidekick rather than the deadly fighter and trained killer Ed Brubaker’s retcons revealed him to be.

And the government apparently didn’t provide Timely with any information. In Invaders #5 Bucky and Toro discuss the errors in the comics: the look of Namor’s trunks, Bucky’s hair color and most of their adventures taking place in the U.S., rather than in Europe. Toro points out that “their writers and artists haven’t exactly been traipsing all over the globe with us.” By the time of the All-Winners Squad, Marvel was getting regular accounts of the heroes’ adventures, but still not in detail (“I didn’t know Future Man used a life battery in Egypt to resurrect mummies!”). The point was to boost morale, not provide news reports.

Timely went on to adapt adventures of other real superheroes, leaving fiction to the other guys (they were probably bigger than DC). Some of the heroes may have had a working relationship with the company. The Golden-Age Vision, for example, offered a first-person account of his origins in Marvel Mystery Comics #1. But I rather doubt that Cap, Torch and Namor showed up at Timely’s offices and begged Stan Lee to add the Destroyer and the Whizzer to the features in All-Winners Comics (even then he must have had a flair for promotion).

That said, Marvel’s second string were undoubtedly more popular in comics than they were on our world. Plus the Golden Age would presumably have a Liberty Legion comic (the Bucky/Toro conversation makes it clear there’s no Invaders book yet, but the team hadn’t been together that long then).

But just as in our world, the good times had to end. As the decade wound down, the marvels, like the GIs, went back to civilian life, or suffered worse fates (a Soviet chemical weapon put the Human Torch and Toro in suspended animation).

Just like our world, Marvel turned to monster comics (based on news reports about creatures called Groot, Taboo, and so forth), war comics and Patsy Walker (we later saw Stan working on Patsy and Hedy in 1961’s #78). Stan had wanted to do a comic about the Howling Commandos since being stationed on the same base with them; it’s possible Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandoes launched in the 1950s. Plus there’d have been a brief return to superheroes when Cap, the Torch and Namor returned mid-decade, but it didn’t last. Stan may very well have figured superhero comics were part of his past, not his future.

But as we’ll see next time, he was wrong.

#SFWApro. Illustrations top to bottom by Carmine Infantino, Alex Ross, Jack Kirby and Alex Schomburg.


  1. Alaric

    I’m enjoying this series, but I think having Stan writing a Patsy Walker comic at that time period in the Marvel Universe is a bit problematic, since at this point Patsy wouldn’t have been born yet.

  2. And the FF wouldn’t have been around in the 1960s for anyone to write about. But for this post I’m looking at the original MU timeline, albeit with later retcons like the Winter Soldier and the All-Winners 70th Anniversary Special factored in. I’ll discuss the impact of the sliding timescale (which now puts the FF into space some time in the early 21st century) probably in the next post in the series.

  3. Edo Bosnar

    Hm. On Earth MCU, there was that scene of all those kids reading that Captain America comic. And on that world he doesn’t hide his secret identity. So that means the comic was the same as the one we have I guess. And that Simon and Kirby might have met Rogers, and Bucky for that matter. But then really took some artistic license with their story.

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