Saturday, July 11, 2015

Timely Returns - Atlas Edition!

One of the most important comics, a real gem is Young Men #24 published in 1953. Sparked by the success of DC's Superman on the new-fangled televisions across the nation, Martin Goodman, as always on the look out for the latest fad, decided it was time to rekindle the Human Torch as well as his Timely cohorts Captain America and the Sub-Mariner. To that end the trio are gathered together in one big comic which tells the world what they've been up to since last seen some four to five years earlier.

In the case of the Human Torch, he'd been buried by gangsters after they found a way to stifle his flames. But they'd imprudently used Yucca Flats as the burial ground and the eventual atomic tests there allowed the Torch to awaken, this time with a radioactive snap to his original flame profile. He quickly finds the thugs who had tried to salt him away, but cannot find his partner Toro. It turns out Toro had been traded to the Commies and a quick flight to Korea allows the Torch to see a mysterious jet streaking across the sky as his partner who brainwashed fought for the Communist forces. Torch brings him home and soon he's cured and the duo work together to rescue an FBI agents daughter from the clutches of the mob.

A lot is piled into a very briskly paced story. But its real impact was a visual one. Russ Heath was the artist of record despite the cover of the comic and the splash page for the Torch story having been done by Torch creator Carl Burgos. Heath's version of the Torch while aflame is different from the classic Burgos version which had been the template for many later renditions.

This sleeker version would be adopted for The Fantastic Four's Johnny Storm when Roy Thomas took control of that book after Stan Lee departed to the west coast to see to Marvel's movie needs. I've always thought this particular rendering of the Torch to be about the best one there is.

Captain America and Bucky get revived too. With artwork by John Romita (and Mort Lawrence on the splash panel) the duo have been playing it cool as Steve Rogers is now a professor teaching at the (ahem) Lee School. Bucky is one of his students and gets fired up when other boys seem to imagine that Cap and Bucky are the stuff of legend. Soon though the return of the Red Skull, this time an agent for the Communists, and a plot to take over the United Nations building are scotched when Steve and Bucky again suit up and dive in fists flying.

In a later story in a later issue of Young Men, Cap, the Torch, and the Sub-Mariner actually share an adventure sort of in a story dedicated to Cap. The trio lasts only briefly as seen in this panel.

The real significance of this 1953 revival though is not sorted out until the early 70's when Steve Englehart takes it up as a plot point. Of course since in the then current Marvel continuity Cap had been on ice since before the end of WWII, the presence of the a Cap and a Bucky during the Cold War was a conundrum. It turns out this duo were wannabes who got hold of a bad batch of the Super-Soldier serum which enhanced their already racist and jingoistic attitudes. This bad Cap battled the real Steve Rogers in a memorable four-parter by Englehart and Sal Buscema. Later the bad Cap became a guy called the "Grand Director" and bad Bucky went to be reformed and had a lengthy career as "Nomad".

The third story in this great comic features Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner. The story is written and drawn by his creator Bill Everett. And Namor's absence is handled in the most off-hand way possible. He's just been out of town. When Betty Dean becomes curious about some ships which have gone missing she makes some calls and soon enough the Sub-Mariner knocks on her door.

I love the way Namor fills out that suit, looking downright dapper and surprisingly urbane. He's far from the berserker he's often portrayed as in other stories, before and after. (The story goes that Namor lasted longer than the others during this revival phase because TV was interested in bringing him to the small screen. It never happened, but this smooth operator would've been right at home.)Namor and Betty find out the ships are being sunk by alien robots from Venus and end the threat, though no one in the official channels believes them.

Bill Everett was a great artist, one of the polished ever to tackle a page in the Golden Age. He seemed only to ever get better, each time he took on his prize creation showing more and more sophistication. His final run on the Sub-Mariner ended when Everett passed away too soon.

I first ran across Young Men #24 in the back of Marvel Super-Heroes #20 which was fronted by a Doc Doom story. The reprint blew me away back then, the polish and sophistication of the artwork was a real eye-opener.

Later still I picked up a copy of Marvel Masterworks - Atlas Era Heroes. I got it for the Marvel Boy stories, but was delighted to find all of the Young Men issues featuring the "Big Three" included.

I read it this time in the trade paper The Golden Age of Marvel Comics Volume One, a beautiful package with a nice overview of comics of the era.

Final Issues
The Timely revivals in 1953 were unsuccessful. As stated the Sub-Mariner lasted the longest because of TV interest, but despite a legitimate push the heroes found no firm footing and by 1955 were back in the bin of forgotten heroes, until the next time.

I'll take a look at that next time, next week. 

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  1. Rip, Marvel also reprinted Young Men #24 as a facsimile issue sometime in the '90s. The only real difference was that it had modern adverts. I've got it, and it's a neat collectable. I'll maybe feature it in a blog post one day - when I remember where it is.

    1. I'm totally unfamiliar with that one. I look forward to it.

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