When the Marvel Universe launched in 1961 a new standard was set in the realm of American superhero comics. Over the remained of the decade Marvel would go on to produce a multitude of monthly and bi-monthly series.
But what were the 3 best of this era? Let’s find out!
1. Fantastic Four
Fantastic Four was the series that launched the Marvel Universe, it was also the most groundbreaking in terms of both characterization and concepts.
First, the teammates didn’t always get along with one another. This was a huge change from what had been done by DC in the JSA and JLA. The main catalyst for this friction was usually the monstrous Thing who was the only member that couldn’t control his powers at will. He would constantly have altercations with the Human Torch. Hell, in the first issue he tried to kill Mr. Fantastic with a tree.
This was also the series that introduced a lot of Marvel’s best characters: Skrulls, Kree, Dr. Doom, the Silver Age version of Namor, the Inhumans, the Watcher, the Silver Surfer, Galactus, and Black Panther to name a few.
The main driver of the series wasn’t usually typical superhero fare (though there was plenty of that), but rather an emphasis on exploration and discovery. Whether it was heading into the Negative Zone, trying to create a serum to change the Thing back into a normal human or time travel escapades the FF was always doing something interesting besides fighting bad guys.
Spotlight on: Fantastic Four #19
The FF travel back to ancient Egypt to seek out a cure for blindness, which they intend to use to restore the sight of the Thing’s girlfriend, Alicia Masters. During the course of the adventure, they lose their powers and are enslaved by Rama Tut a time traveler from the distant future that has conquered Egypt.
While not the most well-remembered issue in the series, this is still a great one.
2. The Amazing Spider-Man
Marvel’s most famous and popular character Spider-Man was featured in the second-best series of this decade.
The standout aspect of Spider-Man has always been his down on his luck, hapless sad sack characterization. Spidey would be just as likely to lose a battle as to win one against one of his many classic villains.
Speaking of classic villains no Marvel character has a better rogues gallery than ol’ Webhead. Can anybody compare with Doc Ock, the Lizard, Electro, Green Goblin, Kingpin, Rhino, Kraven, Mysterio, Scorpion, Sandman, and the Vulture? I think not.
One of the interesting things about this series was that it had 2 different pencillers that were wildly different styles. Starting with Steve Ditko’s quirky and often bizarre style and shifting to John Romita’s more polished, clean style that wouldn’t be out of place in a romance comic.
Spotlight on: Amazing Spider-Man #47-49
This multi-part story features a lot of staples of the series. Spider-Man has the flu and has to take on Kraven and the Vulture.
3. Journey Into Mystery/The Mighty Thor
Rounding out the top 3 is The Mighty Thor (aka Journey Into Mystery). What begins as a fairly standard superhero comic slowly evolves into more of a mythological and science fiction based series as the decade progressed.
Like Spider-Man and the FF, Thor also has a great Rogue’s Gallery feasting such villains as Cobra, Mr. Hyde, Enchantress, Gray Gargoyle, Wrecker, and the Absorbing Man. He also has various conflicts with other deity influenced characters like Loki, Pluto, Hela, and Hercules.
One of the biggest drawbacks was a large amount of issue was inked by Vinnie Colletta, who diminished Kirby’s work by taking shortcuts with the artwork including erasing some of the pencils.
Spotlight on: Journey Into Mystery #105-106
I went with this storyline to spotlight because I wanted a great story with inks by Chic Stone (one of Kirby’s better inkers) and this one fit the bill.
This is the first team-up between Mr. Hyde and Cobra and it contains a lot of the great plot elements from those early issues including Thor having to touch his hammer once a minute in order to not revert to his mortal form and romantic melodrama with his nurse Jane Foster.