Other Best Marvel Comics (1961-1971)
Updated: May 31, 2021
For this post, I will be talking about the best comics of Marvel characters who didn't have a big presence in this era of Marvel history or didn't have many great comics in their runs so far. The characters I will be talking about here will be Ant-Man (the Hank Pym version), Silver Surfer, Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell version), Ka-Zar, Doctor Doom, Inhumans, Black Widow, Conan the Barbarian, and Man-Thing.
Ant-Man. Hank Pym develops a radical new formula that allows him to shrink to the size of an ant. Then, he creates an antenna that allows him to communicate with ants, gaining allies, which eventually leads to him becoming a superhero. Halfway through his run, he is joined by Janet van Dyne who becomes the Wasp, his partner and later wife. He also goes through many different names from Ant-Man to Giant-Man (after he discovered he could grow in size too), Goliath (cause he thought Giant-Man was too corny), and Yellowjacket (from a manic episode). Fun fact, in the silver age of comics, he was the second Marvel hero to show up after the Fantastic Four. Unfortunately, his comic was nowhere near as successful due to bad writing and stories. It's no wonder why Marvel Studios decided to make a film about the Scott Lang version of the character since Hank Pym doesn't really have that many good stories to tell. After his comic was cancelled from poor sales and replaced with the Sub-Mariner, he and the Wasp moved back to the Avengers for most of Roy Thomas's run on that before they were 'retired' for a while. They came back in a very short-lived series which only clarified why they shouldn't have their own series (it was really bad). But at least this all made room for the new Ant-Man who will debut in the 70s. There are really only two stories from the Hank Pym comic run worth mentioning, so here they are.
Tales to Astonish Vol 1. 27: The Man in the Ant Hill
The first appearance of Hank Pym. The character first appeared in a single tale on an anthology series, where Pym develops shrinking technology and accidentally shrinks himself, getting chased around by now giant ants. A single fun issue that sets up the character nicely. This wasn't meant to be a part of a series but the issue sold well so Stan Lee decided to continue it. Definite reading for fans of the character. I would include the first appearance of the Wasp in this list except that story was so bad and convoluted that I'd prefer to purge it from my mind.
Tales to Astonish Vol 1. 50-51: The Human Top
Ant-Man and the Wasp had a few recurring enemies such as Egghead and Porcupine, but only one really had an impact. The Human Top. Barring the incredibly stupid name (he later changed it to Whirlwind), this villain was their greatest enemy and nowhere is that shown better than these two issues where Human Top (a mutant who can spin around at superhuman speed) literally runs rings around the heroes, beating them easily. It takes everything Pym has to take this guy down, with some help from the Wasp (the movies made her so much cooler). This story was the best of the run and if you read only one story, it should be this one. A hell of a fast-paced story.
Silver Surfer. The cosmic wanderer, a being that is so much more than humanity, horrified by their continuous desire for violence and rage. And yet, he continues to try and save them, even when they blame him and try to attack him. After appearing in the famous FF story The Galactus Trilogy as the herald to the great god and then turning against him, Galactus trapped him on Earth. He appeared in a few more Fantastic Four stories and other comics before Stan Lee decided to write him his own series, and he went all in. The first half of the run had its issues double the length of normal comics, the stories bigger and better than most, until Stan Lee kind of lost his way and the stories faltered. When he ran out of ideas, he ended the run. Silver Surfer was one of Lee's all-time favorite characters and he really didn't like anyone else writing him so the character wasn't really used as much after this. Still, he remains one of the more fascinating characters created in Marvel and his greatest stories are some of Marvel's best stories.
Silver Surfer Vol 1. 4: The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny
Cosmic wanderer vs Space god. The evil god Loki comes across the Silver Surfer and promises to help him escape Galactus's barrier if he defeats Thor, making the Surfer think Thor is an enemy. Then with some magic and Loki mischief, the two end up in an epic brawl across the bifrost. The brawl itself is a bombastic pleasure of artwork, but the double-length makes the build-up to the brawl just as interesting. Also, the scene of Odin refusing to intervene as he sees both warriors pure of heart was an interesting addition.
Silver Surfer Vol 1. 5: And Who Shall Mourn for Him?
Wherever he goes on Earth, the Surfer is met with hatred and fear. The humans mistrust him for his appearance and his immense power and he is turned away from all places. That is, until he comes across one man who treats him kindly, becoming his first friend. Even more so, he finds a way to help the Surfer break through the barrier trapping him. Unfortunately, another cosmic being, the Stranger, appears and decides to finally destroy Earth (he's appeared every now and then promising to do it). The Surfer attacks him and holds him off while his friend finds the bomb that will destroy the planet. Sadly, saving the Earth kills the man and the Surfer is left still trapped on Earth and losing his only friend. It is like the Surfer is destined for tragedy.
Silver Surfer Vol 1. 3: The Power and the Prize
The first appearance of one of the greatest Marvel villains of all: Mephisto, Marvel's version of the Devil. Constantly in pursuit of souls to corrupt and control, Mephisto sets his sight on the Silver Surfer, wanting to collect his pure soul. But the Surfer isn't playing ball. Dragging the Surfer into the depths of Hell, Mephisto does everything in his power to torment and torture him but the Silver Surfer breaks through it all, refusing to give in. He is brought to his lowest point but his resolve proves greater in the end and Mephisto is left empty-handed. This story proves not just the power of the character but his strength of will not to give in.
Silver Surfer Vol 1. 1: The Origin of the Silver Surfer
When it comes to great Silver Surfer stories, this one is a must-read in a tale of tragedy and heroism that tells how the man Norrin Radd became the cosmic being known today. He started out as a man unhappy on a planet of perfection where everyone is happy, feeling as if there is nothing more to do. Then, Galactus arrives, threatening to destroy everything he loves. So he makes a choice, to become the herald of the great being and guide him to new worlds to feed on in exchange for leaving his world unscathed. And in doing so, he is forced to leave his love, Shalla-Bal, behind. One of Stan Lee's greatest stories and of the best Marvel comics.
Captain Marvel. This is not the cosmic-powered woman more famous today. This is the original Captain Marvel, the space-faring Kree soldier who turns on his race to help humanity. This character was gender-swapped in the Captain Marvel film in 2019 played by Annette Bening. And after reading his stories, I can honestly say that they should have stuck with the Carol Danvers version. Like with Ant-Man, the successor to the name is the superior version. The character was created as DC Comics had their own Captain Marvel (Billy Batson) and the head of Marvel Comics did not like that since DC was stealing the Marvel name. So he ordered Stan Lee to create the character. The run started out strong but quickly lost its way with an everchanging creative team that tried to reboot the character and his powers several times but none of them really stuck. It was eventually cancelled, but due to corporate management, it was forced back years later to keep the Marvel name at Marvel.
Captain Marvel Vol 1. 11: Rebirth
The Captain Marvel stories were getting stale and bland, so this was the first attempt to reinvigorate the franchise. Up to this point, Marvel has been working undercover at research station, trying to learn more about Earth's defenses but slowly becoming more empathetic towards humanity. This is the culmination where his supervisor, Yon-Rogg (played by Jude Law in the film), attacks and kills his love, Una, before trapping him in an escape pod. After weeks of drifting, Marvel eventually meets the (seemingly) omnipotent being Zo who grants him new powers. This story was able to make the character exciting again with the drifting in space and Marvel's inner thoughts the best part. Of course, this quality didn't last long.
Captain Marvel Vol 1. 18: Vengeance is Mine
The showdown between Marvel and Yon-Rogg as the two go all out to see who is the better. Marvel is out for revenge as Yon-Rogg as destroyed everything he loves, leading to an epic confrontation with the life of Carol Danvers at stake. This story finally showed Yon-Rogg getting what he deserved and served as a finale to the Captain Marvel story so far and setting up what came next. It also showed how Carol Danvers would receive her powers and later become the hero.
Marvel Super-Heroes Vol 1. 12-13, Captain Marvel Vol 1. 1: Out of the Holocaust -- a Hero
The origin of Captain Marvel, Yon-Rogg, and Carol Danvers as well as going deeper into the Kree race. Mar-Vell, soldier of the Kree, arrives on Earth to learn as much as he can on humanity and report back, stealing the identity of scientist Walter Lawson and posing as him only to be forced to fight a Kree sentry gone wild. Captain Marvel came out of the gate strong with some interesting backstory, intriguing premise, and epic action. Unfortunately, it just goes downhill from here.
Ka-Zar. The Lord of the Jungle. He is a man raised in the Savage Land, a world of dinosaurs and swamp men at the bottom of Antarctica, who protects nature against the colonization of mankind. And fighting by his side is his brother, the saber-toothed tiger Zabu. First appearing in X-Men, Ka-Zar went on to appear in other series like Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk, and Daredevil before getting his own series that ran through the late 60s into the early 70s. Ka-Zar is an interesting character created from the love of Tarzan as he hates the civilized man with his concrete jungle and toxic air. He is technically a rich man, the son of a lord, but wants nothing to do with it, preferring the life of the Savage Land. He is also one of the best fighters due to enhanced strength given from the Savage Land, making him a formidable opponent to heroes and villains alike (he fights whoever gets in his way). His stories aren't the best but they're not as bad as others, more medicore and somewhat cliché. Here are the best ones so far:
X-Men Vol 1. 10: The Coming of Ka-Zar
The first appearance of Ka-Zar that introduces him and the Savage Land to Marvel readers as the X-Men go looking for an adventure. Not the best story but it is a fun read and brought to life one of the more important locations of Marvel that hopefully will one day make its cinematic debut.
Astonishing Tales Vol 1. 3-5: The Sun-God
The Sun-Tribe is waging war on the Savage Land to prepare for the coming of their god. Thing is, their god doesn't want anything to do with them, asking Ka-Zar for help instead. A gripping story that goes in ways one doesn't expect as Ka-Zar deals with the supernatural as he fights to protect his home from the power of the Sun-God.
Savage Tales Vol 1. 1: The Night of the Looter
In the early 70s, Marvel decided to start printing more mature comics in a black-and-white format, able to produce edgier content for older readers. This tale is one of them as two people come to the Savage Land searching for treasure, tricking Ka-Zar into helping them but also willing to betray each other. Thus comes a series of twists and turns as the Savage Land proves that no one can claim it or its treasure and anyone who tries will suffer. It also gave a closer look at Ka-Zar's personality and character and what he will stoop to against a threat.
Doctor Doom. Without a doubt the greatest supervillain of Marvel and archenemy of the Fantastic Four. But he's gone up against pretty much every hero at this point, with his presence always elevating the story he's in. The man who ruined his face in a botched experiment, then created a suit, conquered his own country, and now rules it with an iron fist while going to war with the FF to prove he is their superior. He is evil, and yet there is something about him that makes readers like him, a Darth Vader like aura. We've seen two live action takes on Doom and, like the films they were in, didn't bring him to the same level as the comics, which is a true disappointment. He had a single issue story that was popular enough to allow him an eight-issue tale told in-pair with Ka-Zar. He is the only villain so far to get his own comic, and he has more than earned it. Stan Lee has created many great heroes over the years, but great villains? Ones that have layers and not just simple evil plots against the heroes? Not too many. And Doctor Doom was his greatest achievement in that regard. All Hail Doom.
Marvel Super-Heroes Vol 1. 20: This Man...This Demon
The first Marvel comic to have a villain as a protagonist, Doctor Doom is forced to confront one of the Fantastic Four's other enemies, Diablo, who wants to team-up to take them down. Thing is, Doom doesn't team-up. He works alone. Then Diablo reveals he has captured Doom's childhood love, Valeria. This was a mistake. This story is great from beginning to end as it shows why Doctor Doom is the greatest villain and why no one messes with him, especially a D-List villain like Diablo.
Astonishing Tales Vol 1. 1-3: Revolution
Doctor Doom rules his country, Latveria, with an iron fist. And the people can't stand up to him because of his power. Until they get power of their own. Then, they can attack. In this 3-part tale, Doctor Doom finds himself struggling to hold onto his kingdom as he fights against an alien power and revolutionaries but through it all he proves his power and worth, finding new ways to defeat his adversaries and come out on top.
Astonishing Tales Vol 1. 8: ...Though Some Call it Magic
The story that goes into the man behind the mask as Doctor Doom prepares for his annual duel with the Devil over his mother's soul. At the end of the day, Doom is a villain but he is also a tragic figure whose history is made of pain and horror. His mother was a witch and so her soul rests in hell and despite all his power, Doctor Doom cannot save her. And yet, each year, he fights on, never stopping until he succeeds. This one story shows readers a new side of Doom and was the perfect ending for his short comic run.
Fantastic Four Annual Vol 1. 2: The Origin of Doctor Doom
This annual already made the best comics list on my Fantastic Four page, but that was for the battle between the FF and Doom. This is the story in the annual preceeding that. The story of Doom as a child, when his father could not cure the queen and was thus executed, leaving Doom in the care of the gypsies. From there, he learned all he could of science in order to dominate the world and make it pay. This story shows his meeting with Reed Richards, his accident that left him disfigured, and his taking of Latveria to become its sovereign ruler. His whole story laid out just like that. This is the tale that made Doctor Doom and elevated him to become the greatest Marvel villain of all. Let's just pray that Marvel Studios can help bring that greatness to the big screen.
Inhumans. A civilization of superhumans, experiment on by the Kree to be granted superpowers who live excluded from the world in the Great Refuge. Black Bolt, whose very voice shatters cities; Medusa, whose hair is like a thing alive; Gorgon, whose footsteps cause earthquakes; Karnak, who can spot the weak point on anything; Crystal; who can control the elements; Triton, who can breath underwater and navigate currents like no one else; and Lockjaw, an adorable giant dog that can teleport wherever he wants. First introduced in the Fantastic Four, the Inhumans became a main part of the Marvel lore, popping up in many other titles and briefly owning two of their own runs. The first, by Jack Kirby, revealed the origins of the Inhumans, while the second was more traditional superhero stories. The Inhumans were meant to get a film from Marvel Studios but something went wrong and instead it came earlier in small-budget television format that was just a train of garbage. With Ms. Marvel coming to the MCU later this year, let's hope more inhumans will follow.
Thor Vol 1. 146-152: The Inhumans
Told in the back-end of Thor's comic series for seven issues, this small saga revealed the origins of the Inhumans, how eons ago the Kree experimented on humans and created the race, how that race's intelligence surpassed others, how they created their city. How Black Bolt was born and how they had to deal with his devastating voice, and how he and his brother Maximus fell apart. Kirby gets to show off his creative talent in writing and drawing the history of this superhuman society.
Black Widow. The spy turned superhero who was the first female character to have her own series in Marvel Comics during the Silver Age. Unfortunately, she isn't as much as a badass as she is in the films, but she does have her moments. She's also one of the only characters who does not have a secret identity. First debuting in Iron Man's Tales of Suspense she started as a villain and then turned good and became a side-member of the Avengers before getting her own solo title which lasted only about 8 issues before it was cancelled and she became a main character in Daredevil's comics instead. One thing about Marvel is nothing is ever truly cancelled. The story and character always comes back one way or another. While the Black Widow presented in Marvel comics so far leaves more to be desired as she is nowhere near the powerful icon that Scarlett Johansson brought to the screen, she still has her moments.
Amazing Adventures Vol 2. 2-4: The Young Warriors
When a group of young kids fight back against the authority to keep a building from being destroyed, Black Widow sides with them. However, a crime boss gets involved and the situation quickly escalates, endangering the kids' and Black Widow's life. This is the story where readers finally get to see her as more than a spy or someone's love interest, showing what she can do as a superhero in action.
Amazing Adventures Vol 2. 5: ...And to All a Good Night\
The Black Widow goes up against the Astrologer and his men, and then comes one of the more disastrous events to happen in her superhero career where she fails to save one of the criminals as he falls off a ledge to his death. This stays with her a while after, making her question herself and her role as a superhero.
Conan the Barbarian. Warrior of the Hyborian Age who somehow doesn't get cold while only wearing a small skirt all day. Apparently, Marvel wanted to do a sword and fantasy comic and Roy Thomas noticed Conan was a character that had the most requests to be adapted. So he got the rights and Marvel had a sword and fantasy comic. I wasn't planning on reading this comic but then I found out that Conan later has a major presence in Marvel Comics, fighting alongside other heroes even though they live in completely different eras. Still, I'm glad I did. These stories don't really have a bad title. Some are more bland than others, but each one tells an interesting story about this world in the distant past, a world where people fought demons as well as each other, where magic was used often, and where wearing as little clothing as possible was apparently the fashion (seriously, what do they do in the winter? just deal with it?). And Conan is not a heroic figure. He does what he feels is right but he doesn't go out of his way to save people. Most of the time he's sick of people, just doing jobs to make a living. It's what makes him an interesting character and what makes this series so good. The reason why Conan made it to this list instead of his own is because his comic started at the end of 1971 so there weren't many great stories of his to cover for this era. Next list will have many more. Til then, here are a few of Conan's best comics:
Conan the Barbarian Vol 1. 10: Beware the Wrath of Anu
This issue tells the story of how Conan comes to a new city and greets an old friend, joining him in robbing the rich. However, a betrayal winds up killing the friend and almost killing Conan, but he comes back and takes revenge. One thing to know about Conan is he always ends up alone. No friends, no companions, one way or another. Here, he finds the traitor and must battle through the god Anu to have his vengeance. And he does, in a way.
Conan the Barbarian Vol 1. 1: The Coming of Conan
The first issue of Conan the Barbarian has it all: swords, carnage and battle, magic demons, and men and women with revealing clothes. Sounds like a sword and sorcery tale to me. This is the comic that introduced Conan to readers as he finds himself first fighting against men and then somehow drawn into a plot of demons and dark magic. And that's just the first story. From here on, Roy Thomas doesn't let up.
Conan the Barbarian Vol 1. 9: The Garden of Fear
In this extra-length tale, Conan finds himself facing a creature as old as the Earth itself, a creature of a long lost age, a creature that just pissed him off. And he doesn't take that lying down. And also he needs to rescue the girl. For most stories, Conan resorts to using his weapons or fists. But in this case, he has to do something else entirely. Some gorgeous artwork and some extra worldbuilding turns this into a truly great Conan comic.
Conan the Barbarian Vol 1. 4: The Tower of the Elephant
When Conan hears of this strange tower with an enormous treasure that no thief has ever managed to rob, he goes out to prove that he can do it. And thus begins his best tale, as the story starts out one way, and then completely turns on its head to reveal something else entirely. There's a reason this story is a classic as it turns from a heist job into a rescue witha tragic tale thrown in as well. Conan stories don't get better than this.
Man-Thing. Once a man, now something else, something different. A creature of the swamp who hates the smell of fear. Despite the unfortunate name (and whoever thought up the comic title Giant-Size Man-Thing just wasn't thinking right) this character is one of the more interesting ones created as he is someone who doesn't even know who he is or what he wants. He just wanders around and helps when he can, if he can (mostly if he's in the mood to). This way, his stories are more introspective. The good ones are anyway. Man-Thing doesn't have a major presence in Marvel from 1961 to 1971. In fact he only appeared in one comic. But that opened up his path to appear in the next ten years and further. And that story is:
Savage Tales Vol 1. 1: ...Man-Thing
Once he was a man named Ted Sallis. Once, he worked on a new super-soldier experiment. Then he was attacked by A.I.M. and by his wife who turned out was a spy. So he runs and decides to sacrifice his life by taking himself and the formula into the swamp to be destroyed. Except something else happened. Now, he is the Man-Thing. This one story packs a lot into its tight page limit, but it manages it and makes it work, telling the origin of one of the strangest creatures in Marvel lore.
And that's it. All the best comics of Marvel 1961-1971. I am currently making my way through 1971-1981 with whole new characters introduced and more great stories coming from the same characters. This was a lot more fun than I anticipated, learning about the history of characters I'd only seen from adaptations and I can't wait to see what comes next. Til next time.