The Complete Marvel: Year Four – Marvel Comics of 1965

by Jason Flatt

1965: The fourth full year of The Complete Marvel! Come along for a journey through every Marvel Multiverse story ever published. Character analysis, story overview, and socio-cultural impact abound! The Marvel Comics of 1965 were where a new Avengers were born and whole new worlds were discovered!

Marvel Comics of 1965 Overview1965: Year Four

The Marvel comics of 1965 saw lots of changes to the ongoing lineup. The Avengers had a whole new team, Giant-Man and Wasp retired to be replaced by a Namor feature, Hulk got his groove on, Nick Fury became the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Daredevil and X-Men became monthly magazines. The world continued to grow and bloom into a dynamic universe filled with creatures, lands, and dimensions that have gone on to become true staples in the Marvel Multiverse.

Marvel Comics of 1965 How To Tell A Story

How To Tell A Story In The Marvel Age Of Comics

The Marvel comics of 1965 saw a major battle rage between one-shot and continuous storytelling styles. The old style of single-issue, self-contained stories that birthed the Marvel Age of Comics in 1961 really lost luster. It is little wonder why the worst offenders of this baddie-of-the-month style, Giant-Man and the Wasp’s stories in Tales to Astonish and the Torch and Thing features in Strange Tales, saw their ends this year. They were then replaced with Namor and Nick Fury respectively. Both of these new features had overarching plots that continued on through each subsequent issue.

This gradual replacement of isolated stories with occasional callbacks with serialized stories throughout the Marvel comics of 1965 is much to be celebrated. There is a reason most modern Marvel comics are written in this style still. It is simply captivating. Watching Thor go through the same cycle of lusting after Jane Foster, arguing with Odin, getting fooled by Loki, and defeating a big foe to only do it again next month was getting worn out. His shift into a continuous narrative saved Journey Into Mystery. Now, it is exciting to see what is going to happen next through the Trial of the Gods and the missing Norn Stone. The same is very true of the Hulk and Rick Jone’s struggle against the Leader and the US Army, Namor’s quest to retake his throne, and Doctor Strange’s ongoing struggle against Mordo and Dormammu. These comics were by far the most exciting to read, and hopefully, the remainder of the lineup follows this trend shortly beginning in 1966.

Marvel Comics of 1965 Bad News

Bad News

J. Jonah Jameson. The perpetually irate newsman everybody loves to hate. Everybody, that is, except for lovers of a fair press. For as much as the man has become a character in modernity, thanks to J. K. Simmons incredible performances in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies as well as Jameson’s recent portrayal in Insomniac’s Spider-Man (2018) video game. There, he is presented as a raving conspiracy theorist with a radio show; a totally apt portrayal for a modern take on the character. That is what J.J.J. boils down too: an irresponsible journalist with a platform.

Jameson has power, wealth, and an inexplicable likability as evidenced by his belonging to a premier social club. He also has the ears of many local officials who an average media mogul should never have such direct access to. Aunt May even has a thing for him. This gives him the privilege of being able to propagate whatever information he so chooses through his newspaper with little pushback. Jonah uses this luxury for far more than the simple pursuit of information. He uses it to push an agenda. The “Spider-Man is a menace” agenda. It is a slow burn. Not everyone believes him at first. But, as he again and again fails to get his way, Jameson increasingly uses his power as editor-in-chief to spin stories towards his whim. He outright asks for damning photos and stories.

Marvel Comics of 1965 More Bad News

While Jameson serves as a stark reminder that in any age and with any medium, powerful people can sway the public just by using their faith in the media against them, the way journalism is portrayed in the Marvel comics of 1965 is just murky. Journey Into Mystery #122 features a Mr. Hobbs who just kidnaps Jane Foster to catch a scoop on Thor’s alter ego as if it is no big deal. The rogue anthropologist Bolivar Trask makes one statement about mutants being a menace and the Daily Globe sensationalizes it to an extreme. They conjure terrifying images and fear monger incredulously. Whether this irresponsible portrayal is because of an inherent distrust the Marvel staff had or due simply to irresponsibility on their part, the consistency of newspapers’ bad ethics in the Marvel Comics of 1965 is bad news.

Marvel Comics of 1965 oh the 60s

Oh, The 60s

Ever the hotbed of benevolent racism and sexism. The Marvel comics of 1965, of course, were no exception. There is no doubt that the writers and artists had the best of intentions. They were generally very progressive people, as discussed in previous years of the Complete Marvel. Nevertheless, the stalwart of early progress in comics Stan Lee and his crew would not shy away from a discussion of how their work can and should be criticized. The racist caricatures of Vietnamese, Chinese, African, South American, and Russian people in these comics just have no excuse in any era. It would be unfair to characterize the Marvel comics of 1965 as free from negative traits when savage slave tropes and the intention drawing of oriental women to look like ugly men is the crutch the artists leaned on to elicit fear and loathing (see Tales of Suspense #61-62, Avengers #18, and several others for prime examples). It was the onset of conflict in Vietnam and fear of Communism was ubiquitous. It just does not make it any less difficult to stomach in 2019.

None of this is to say that there are not great portrayals of women or racial minorities strewn throughout the Marvel Comics of 1965. Marvel Girl finally gets some much-needed room to flex her awesome powers in X-Men #14, and Invisible Girl is, as ever, the sharp tactician who saves her teammates with her immeasurable power on too many occasion to count. Yet, it would be unfair to read the Marvel comics of 1965 and not mention just how many grating comments the men in these pages make about the women around them. Johnny Storm and Hank Pym come to mind as the worst offenders of this. Hank constantly is trying to sideline Janet for his fear of her being too weak to help, even though she’s a totally capable partner. It even leads to her own self-doubt on several occasions, which is precisely the opposite of how a partner should be influencing their counterpart. Johnny on the other hand, is frequently found ragging on his girlfriend Dorrie and flirting with every girl he sees. It is tough to read the way the men often talk to their romantic companions with a doting expectation.

The women of these comics are frequently shown as fiercely independent individuals with total autonomy over their decisions, in spite of their frequent kidnappings and the presumptions men make about their abilities because of their looks. It is heartening to know that while many of these incredible characters have yet to have the chance to prove it, they have great power. After all, it is by no means their faults that the men who wrote and drew them for mostly male readers thought their best usage as characters at the time was as love interests. Hopefully, as new writers start to join the Marvel stable in the future, they will give these fantastic characters the full respect and opportunity that they deserve.

Marvel Comics of 1965 Spider-ManMarvel Comics of 1965: The Solicitations

Amazing Spider-Man

Peter Parker and Johnny Storm were the two teenage heartthrob-types of the Marvel comics of 1965. For Johnny, it mostly fell flat as his romance with Dorrie never felt either emotional or that it had stakes like Ben and Alicia’s or Reed and Sue’s in his Fantastic Four counterparts. The writing of Peter, on the other hand, took a totally different approach. His love quadrilateral between Betty Brant, Liz Allen, and Flash Thompson for much of the year reflected something one might find in a romance mag. It was rarely the main feature of any issue, serving as a B or C plot mot often, but the conflict between these four characters wagered on for a long time before finally culminating in Parker’s high school graduation and Liz and Betty’s ceasing their relationships with him. This was a smart ploy, keeping the romance ever-present while never having it overshadow Peter’s greater struggles against villains or his own emotions. Rather, they just naturally were incorporated into his persistent struggle to balance life as a teen and a hero.

Unlike every other Marvel comic of 1965, Peter’s relationships were not set in stone. There was never any telling who he might wind up in a relationship with. Every other couple in the Marvel lineup was either already exclusive, or the tension was consistently between two characters. For Petey though, it was a constant well-they won’t-they. This tactic, borrowed from non-action oriented storytelling, made for a far more real life for Parker. It was just another of the constant ways that he shined as the most real and relatable character. It was also part of what helped his non-continuous stories remain fresher than the other non-continuous ones like Giant-Man and the Wasp or X-Men. As Liz Allen and the ever-teased Mary Jane Watson begin to enter into Peter’s life, it is quite likely the same tactic of keeping Peter’s romantic life up in the air will serve him and his comic well.

Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four was already used to multiple-issue story arcs, but with the Marvel comics of 1965, it started trying out the serial style. It was a bit clunkier than some of the others. Some plots would only tie together because of a cliffhanger ending. From midyear on though, every issue led into the next one. Thank goodness, because the earlier issues from the Marvel comics of 1965 in general, where the creative team was experimenting with starting comics in the middle and then backtracking, was starting to grow confusing.

There were some really excellent arcs this year nonetheless. The team encountered the Skrulls again, which led to a really emotional time for Sue Storm as she struggled with encountering her father’s killer. Doom strikes the Baxter Building against a powerless Fantastic Four and only Daredevil could save them. Thing quits the group after, for some reason, he gets upset he’s the Thing. His time with the Frightful Four was pretty fun, and it led to an interesting turn around for Medusa as the Inhumans came into the fray while the year wound down. Next year will definitely have a lot to keep building off of.

Strange Tales

This comic made such a dramatic turnaround from being one of the least exciting to one of the best. The new Nick Fury stories were plain and simple spy thrillers that brought a whole new dynamic to the Marvel comics of 1965. The type of story new and fresh. It was also cool to have the heroes of the concurrent Sgt. Fury comic (not covered by The Complete Marvel). Most importantly, it added a whole new layer of depth to the world readers already knew by having Tony Stark act as S.H.I.E.L.D’s weapons contractor and a secret war raging on around everything else going on. The stories themselves were not particularly memorable, but boy was it really cool the first time the Helicarier was shown.

The real kingmaker for Strange Tales though was Doctor Strange. His journey over most of the year to evade Mordo, fend off Dormammu, and heal the ailing Ancient One was riveting and full of gorgeous art. The enormity of Dormammu’s presence, Clea’s faithfulness to Strange, and the mystery behind Eternity gave each issue a full purpose. Each left a wanting for the next chapter. Last year in Marvel ended with Strange defeating Dormammu and befriending Clea. This year, Steve Ditko proved an impeccable ability to weave together multiple story threads at once both here and in Amazing Spider-Man. While each Dr. Strange story was short, they each managed to give a taste of every character’s part in the overarching story, teasing what must eventually be an outstanding ending. Each story also always had one spectacular element to it, whether finally revealing Eternity, Dormammu entering the fray of battle, or Clea freeing the Mindless Ones. Each new issue would put a wrap on the last’s astonishing cliffhanger only to repeat its suspense by the end again.

Marvel Comics of 1965 X-MenX-Men

It took most of the year before the X-Men comic got terribly interesting. It was frequently on the verge of it. Introducing Ka-Zar was exciting, until realizing how one-dimensional he was. Professor X’s sudden disappearance after graduating the X-Men and his past with Lucifer was kind of interesting, but totally forgettable. The arc with the Juggernaut was good and deep, showing a really vulnerable side of this team and an interesting past for Xavier. And then, even after X-Men had its most interesting issue to date in #14, it still could not quite capitalize on it.

The huge shocker of Bolivar Trask setting the world against mutants and then unleashing terrible machines designed to capture them loose was monumental. It was truly one of the most harrowing moments in all the Marvel comics of 1965. The possible ramifications of this arc could and will likely be enormous and irrevocable. Yet, unfortunately, the rest of the second part of the arc fizzled out and the huge interest that was won in Issue 14 was lost in Issue 15. Hopefully, with the new year will come renewed vigor for X-Men, especially now that it is a monthly series. Hopefully that will include more use of Jean Grey for action. Her one moment of glory in Issue 14 needs to be expanded on soon.

Marvel comics of 1965 annualsFantastic Four Annual #3, Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2, and Journey Into Mystery Annual #1

There is a lot that can be done with 72 pages. Annuals are such a fun way to just go all out for a comic. Each did it differently and well. Fantastic Four teases the wedding of Sue and Reed for months before finally delivering the most star-studded story yet. It featured nearly every hero and villain ever encountered in the Marvel Age of Comics and ended with a cute cameo from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby themselves. Steve Ditko delivered a beautifully illustrated crossover between his two characters, Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, in the Spider-Man Annual. And Thor, while the actual story of him encountering Hercules and Olympus was just okay, the full 72 pages were well used as they were filled with a lot of really great illustrations fleshing out Thor’s world and the Norse mythology of it.

Marvel Comics of 1965 AvengersIssue Spotlights:

Avengers #16

There was so much build-up to the eventual heel-turn of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Several times over the previous year the two characters were shown to clearly hate Magneto and nearly joined the good guys. So, when it finally came time for the two of them to choose their fate, it was so disappointing. The whole affair took place in a flash and with virtually none of the emotion that it deserved. The siblings basically just up and joined the Avengers as if it was nothing. The Marvel Comics of 1965 were full of crossovers and mini advertisements within the stories for other ongoing comics. So, why not have their flight from Magneto’s cruel clutches be shown on the pages of an X-Men comic before culminating in their joining the Avengers?

The same could be said of Hawkeye’s joining as well. His one good deed was entirely forgotten about until mentioned briefly in this issue of Avengers. His previous appearance in Tales of Suspense #66 would have been a perfect time to plant the seeds of redemption. Alas, what was done cannot be changed and the only thing to do is continue reading the adventures of the new Avengers team. What was at least well-conceived in this issue was sewing the audience’s suspicion that the new team would not be as great as the original one. It outright asks the very question on any readers mind: how will they protect the earth from threats without all of the power of the original team? While the rest of the Avengers stories in the Marvel comics of 1965 wavered in quality, perhaps because they overused the squabbles between Captain America and Hawkeye to hammer in that point, nobody can deny that the move to completely change the roster was bold.

Daredevil #8

Namor wants to sue the whole human race, and Matt Murdock is the only lawyer crazy enough to take him up on it. As one of the few superheroes that is not a super-genius, it was so fun to watch Matt get to actually do his real job. The issue also served as a great back-door pilot for the Namor feature that would begin shortly after in Tales to Astonish. It demonstrated how full of character Namor had the potential to be. It made the reader feel like perhaps, actually, his cause was somewhat reasonable? Namor simply wanted sovereignty for his people and the human race does not exactly treat the ocean very well. It is of course, completely ludacris to sue the entire human race, but Namor does it in such a believable and inperturbable way that it is no wonder his solo stories went on to be some of the best in the Marvel comics of 1965 lineup.

Marvel Comics of 1965 Absorbing ManCharacter spotlights:

Absorbing Man

Look, there is nothing particularly special about Absorbing Man’s introduction. Loki uses the power of Plot Devices to turn a random earthing into a super-powered menace capable of taking on Thor and Odin himself. What makes Crusher Creel worthy of praise out of all the villains in the Marvel comics of 1965 is that he is just so darned cool. Not only can he absorb and take on the properties of any substance, but he can take on the properties of ANY substance. Thor’s strength and Uru hammer? No problem, he’ll just crack Mjolnir like it is no big deal. The literal power of an Asgardian City? Sure, no problem. Oh, Odin, you’re going to zap Creel with some Cosmic Bolts? Better luck next time, because he is one hundred percent going to take on the power of a cosmic ray. So what if all anybody has to do to stop him is have him touch a useless object or a cloud of helium gas? That just makes him somebody who can actually be defeated eventually and brought back again for another round later. Absorbing Man is easily one of the coolest new villains from the Marvel comics of 1965 and not even Odin’s ability to nullify powers can take that away.

Captain America

The Marvel comics of 1965 tried really hard to figure out just how best to use Captain America. As leader of the new Avengers team, he eased right into that position. As a solo act in his own feature for Tales of Suspense? Not quite so much. His first few outings were quite flat, landing as formulaic stories with none of the Marvel depth readers come to expect. The shift to stories of Cap and Buckie during World War Two was a good second attempt retelling a few of his original stories in a modern style or telling a new story in a 1940s style were cool gimmicks, but they started to feel out of place too after receding back to war comics and not superhero comics.

Captain America is a superhero first and a war hero second in the Modern Marvel Age. That is why his Avengers appearances work best. On his own, he rarely appeared more powerful than his Nazi foes and usually outwitted them more than out-mighting them. In Avengers, Cap’s wartime past is never forgotten. His post-traumatic stress from losing Bucky is persistent company and his feud with Baron Zemo ties straight into his war history. These elements are what make his permanent defeat of Zemo and the complicated emotional response he has to it some of the year’s best work.

Marvel Comics of 1965 Dr. Strange

Creator Spotlight:

Gene Colan

Comic book writing was not exactly the most glamorous job, and writing for the Marvel Comics of 1965 was considered, by some in the industry, to be even less savory. Marvel and D.C. were not the amicable comrades they are today. They were fierce rivals. As such, writers or artist that worked for D.C. and then went to do work for Marvel either at the same time or in between D.C. gigs were often afraid of the backlash they might get over the perceived betrayal. While in reality they were often just looking for more work, especially since Marvel certainly paid less than D.C., the fear was great among the freelancers. As a result, some would take to pseudonyms to protect themselves. Amongst those that worked on the Marvel Comics of 1965, the prolific Gene Colan was one of them.

Starting under the false name Adam Austin, Colan restarted his time in the Marvel bullpen drawing Namor for Tales to Astonish. In the 50s, Colan drew many of the pulps. In 1965, he became a staple once more also taking over on the Iron Man stories in Tales of Suspense and Daredevil. It is a good thing Colan came back too, and that he was not too scared of D.C.’s wrath to do so. He would go on to create some Marvel classic such as the Falcon, the first mainstream Black superhero, the original Captain Marvel, the super popular Tomb of Dracula series which spawned Blade, and even Howard the Duck, just to name some. While he may not have the name recognition of John Romita, who also joined the Marvel staff late in 1965, without Gene Colan, the Marvel comics of 1965 and today would look very different.

Some quick praise for his work on Namor in particular. Working through the Marvel Method, he helped take a Golden Age character who was somewhat intriguing in his few prior appearances and make one of the most interesting ongoing stories of the year. Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner’s quest to retake his throne from Krang was teased all the way back in Fantastic Four Annual #1 from two years earlier. Finally seeing it unfurl through a continuous narrative was epic, largely thanks to Colan’s stewardship of the character.

Thanks for being a part of The Complete Marvel! The Marvel comics of 1965 added 98 new issues to the total read so far, with a total of 292 issues of Marvel superhero comics read. Start back in Year Zero – 1961 to partake in The Complete Marvel from the very beginning, and continue along as 1966 brings all new adventures with Silver Surfer, the Inhumans, Black Panther, and more! For some extra fun in the Marvel Multiverse, check out Marvel Zombies 1 and 2.

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