Thursday, December 8, 2016

What If I Ran 1966

Screen capture from Mike's Amazing World of Comics.
I’ve done several “what if” posts like this in the past for this blog (like “If I ran Marvel Comics”), considering what I would do if I was given control of Marvel Comics. But this time, I’m thinking about something new…what would I do if I’d been given control of Marvel back in 1966.

This was a pivotal time in Marvel Comics. Steve Ditko was gone. Wally Wood went to go work somewhere else. Stan Lee -- I don’t like to say anything bad about Stan, but he was stretched thin trying to write too much. The idea that the Marvel universe was proceeding in real time was disappearing. But at the same time, Jack Kirby was hitting new heights of storytelling greatness and creating new characters at a fever pitch. This was still a great time for Marvel, but it could have been even better.   

Let’s assume that I was brought into the company by an aging Martin Goodman. The old man would sort of betray his nephew, Stan, who was the rightful heir to the Marvel Comics Group. The first thing I would do would be to talk to Stan about how valuable he was to the company, thank him for all he’d done, but ask him to cut back to four titles and really concentrate on turning out good stories and watch his continuity.

The next step would be to declare what titles the company would be publishing from then on. Tales to Astonish, Strange Tales, and Tales of Suspense were going to get split out into individual titles early. I would dump Fantasy Masterpieces and just have one reprint book, Marvel Tales. Millie the Model was getting cut back to one title. Two-Gun Kid and Rawhide Kid were going bye, but Kid Colt Outlaw would stay (the other two cowboys could always guest-star in his title). Patsy and Heady would stick around. That would be 17 titles, about what Marvel was already producing anyway.

Next up would be bringing Stan Lee and Steve Ditko back together. I would make them talk about what slights or imagined slights Ditko perceived and offer Ditko a deal -- he wouldn’t have to come back and draw, and he wouldn’t have to work with Stan anymore, but I wanted him inking Spider-Man and Dr. Strange.

Then I’d have a heart-to-heart with Jack Kirby. Jack would open up to me and tell me about his issues with Stan. I would reassure Jack that I would take Stan off all his titles and, in return, Jack would stay loyal to Marvel and never leave for DC. His Fourth World characters would later become part of the Marvel line.

Next I’d find Wally Wood. I wouldn’t want to take him away from THUNDER Agents because that was some amazing stuff, but I'd give him the incentive he needed to find time to keep working for Marvel on the side by doubling his pay. In fact, let's just assume that I came to Marvel along with the financial backing to double the pay of all the artists and inkers.    

Other than that, I would keep all the same creative players Marvel was already using, or had used at least once in the past year, but maybe mix them around a little.

Then I would meet with everyone and explain that Marvel Comics would continue to be about change and not the illusion of change. Time would continue to pass in the comic books, though we would begin slowing it down to 6 months of comic book time in 1 year of real time. Further, every issue would resolve at least one plot element. No plot strings would go untied after six issues. And no cliffhangers picking up at the same time the following issue; at least a minute of time would have to pass, without cheating the reader. 

On specific titles:

Amazing Spider-Man
I would take over writing Spider-Man, with John Romita doing the art, but Steve Ditko inking over him to keep a consistent look with the first three years of the title. I would get Peter Parker out of the rut of taking photos for J. Jonah Jameson all the time and move his life forward more. He would be busy with college, interning with the police forensics dept., and deepening his relationship with Gwen Stacey. Gwen would intern alongside him and they would become true partners, solving mysteries related to super criminals, and Peter soon telling Gwen his secret identity. 

Stan Lee would stay in charge of The Avengers, with working with Don Heck on art, inked by Wally Wood. Since Heck wasn't that great at costume design, I'd insist on Wally working with him and getting co-creator credit for new characters. I'd suggest to Stan that he bump up Goliath's strength a bit more, not let Quicksilver's speed get overshadowed, and let Wasp take the Living Laser's wrist weapons and replace her useless stingers with them. Following that, Roy Thomas might suggest some story ideas to Stan, particularly for Avengers #40, an old favorite of mine Roy did. 

I feel Daredevil was floundering for a lack of direction in '66. I would take it out of Stan's hands and pass it off to a newcomer with a few Marvel writing credits to his name at that time -- Denny O'Neil. For art, I would keep Romita on pencils, but pull back in Bill Everett for inks. I would give Denny pretty much free rein to do with Daredevil what he wanted, but I would definitely advise him to lose the old Thor foes and deal more with street-level crime.

Fantastic Four
I love Lee and Kirby's run on the FF, but to make Jack happy I'd remove Stan from this and take over writing the series myself. Kirby and Joe Sinnott would handle the art chores. I would have sit-down discussions with Jack about what he wanted to do with the FF. I'd let him come up with the big ideas and new characters, while I focused on tightening up continuity and keeping supporting cast relevant. I would ask him to consider phasing Reed and Sue off the team by issue #100, though, subbing in the Sub-Mariner and Crystal, with Alicia Masters having a big role (and eventually marrying Ben). 

Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos
I would leave this in the hands of Stan Lee on writing, Dick Ayers on art, and Frank Giacoia on inks. In keeping with Marvel time passing, I would give Stan two real years to wrap up WWII for Nick and the boys and then have them do post-war secret missions anywhere in the world.

Doctor Strange
Strange Tales would end and its two features would get their own titles. To make Ditko happy, I would take Stan off of this book too and give it to Roy Thomas to write. I'd put Don Heck on art chores, with Ditko inking him. I would ask him to make Dr. Strange more episodic, with Dr. Strange relying more on smarts than spells to solve cases so as not to attract more super-demons like Dormmammu to Earth (though there could still be demons!).

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
I would leave Stan Lee in charge of writing this, with John Severin providing pencils, inked by his sister Marie. Severin would bring a degree of realism to the spy stories. I wouldn't take an active hand in guiding them.

Invincible Iron Man
Tales of Suspense would end and its two features would get their own titles. Iron Man was doing great until Stan left, so I'd keep Stan on this title, with Gene Colan pencils, and Wally Wood inks (like with the Avengers, Wally would be a creative consultant for costume design). So long as they kept going in the direction they were during Tales of Suspense, I wouldn't need to take a guiding hand.

Captain America
I would want Jack Kirby staying on Cap, so Lee would have to leave and I'd take his place as writer. Jack could use as many of his big ideas from the Fourth World in Cap's title as he wanted and I'd mainly just hang around for tightening up dialogue and making sure everything made sense. I would keep Sharon Carter around, but also bring back Betsy Ross from the Golden Age for a love triangle. 

Incredible Hulk
Tales to Astonish would end and its two features would get their own titles. I would for sure give the Hulk to Roy Thomas to write, with Gil Kane on art and Marie Severin on inks, tightening Gil up. Thomas was the perfect Hulk writer, so I would give the boys free rein.

Prince Namor, Sub-Mariner
I would have to write this title, with Gene Colan on pencils, inked by Vince Colletta. I would want Namor to be a political figure on the world stage, balancing international diplomacy with rash decisions to take unilateral action to end the world's problems. His supporting cast would include members of the UN, SHIELD (always trying to keep an eye on Namor), and citizens of both Atlantis and Aquaria (Namor's actual Golden Age kingdom). Namor would be urbane, wear suits as often as swim trunks, and rely on high-tech as much as his strength.

Mighty Thor
Again, Jack Kirby is not allowed to leave this title, so Stan will go and I'll take over, basically, co-author chores with Jack. I'm keeping Colletta on inking, though, even if Jack grumbles a bit about that. Jack can build up to a Ragnarok story, kill off most of the gods, and then have the remainder (at least Thor and the Warriors Three) enter the war between the New Gods.

I'm not a big X-Man fan and would need someone to do something dramatically different for it to work for me (and Marvel fans back then too, to avoid how it went into reprints). I would give this book to Denny O'Neil, ask Alex Toth to come on board as full-time artist, and have Joe Sinnott ink Toth. I would strongly encourage Denny to kill off Professor X and leave him dead, retire Angel, and have the Blob join the team to shake things up.

Tales to Astonish
Well...maybe I would keep this after all, but as a rotating anthology. Each month it could be the Silver Surfer, the Black Panther, the Inhumans, Ka-Zar, The Black Widow, or switch things up and feature one of the cowboys who lost their regular title, or maybe even an untold tale of a Golden Age Timely hero!