The Comic Book Collectors Club is proud to announce the publication of our own Barry Pearl’s introduction to Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Tales of Suspense – Volume 4, the latest volume in Marvel’s classic reprint series, now available at bookstores everywhere (so I can finally reveal this top-secret information without incurring the wrath of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents). Barry’s too shy to tell you himself, so I volunteered to put in a plug for him. (Actually he threatened to send me his collection of Omega the Unknown unless I wrote this, so I had no choice.)
The volume Barry introduces covers the science fiction/horror features in Tales of Suspense #32-48 and 50-54, spanning May 1962 to June 1964. Not included are the Iron Man stories that began appearing in #39 (March 1963), which are reprinted in other volumes, and which Barry covers in depth in his full-length treatment, The Essential Marvel Age Reference Project.
Barry’s introduction is called “The Shoulders of Atlas”, reflecting the fact that the featured stories came at the tail end of the Atlas Era in Marvel history. Tales of Suspense, borrowing its name from the radio mystery Suspense, was launched in January 1959, in the wake of Godzilla leaving his footprint on the international box office three years earlier. By 1962 Japan’s mark on Hollywood had spawned King Kong vs. Godzilla. Meanwhile Hammer Films, Roger Corman, and William Castle had revived the classic horror of the Universal era, while new science-spawned monsters like aliens, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Fly were prowling the screen. In their shadows crouched such future MST3K fare as Attack of the Giant Leeches, The Giant Gila Monster, and The Killer Shrews, to name a few lesser horrors. Behind all these lurked the real-life horrors of the atomic bomb, the Cold War, and the threat of Sputnik.
Barry’s commentary places Tales of Suspense in this cultural and pop cultural context. Writing as someone who read comics from that era as they were hitting the stands, Barry surveys the state of the industry at the time, comparing what Marvel was doing with what its competitors were doing. His analysis draw from original interviews with DC editor Julius Schwartz as well as Marvel creators Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Stan Goldberg. We learn things like how DC’s in-house art policy differed from Marvel’s and how Stan Lee and Larry Lieber came up with names like “Skrang” and “Henry Pym.”
Barry also offers an issue-by-issue, story-by-story commentary. He not only studies how Lee worked with such figures as Kirby and Ditko, but he also discusses such pairings as Lieber and Ditko and Kirby and Ayers, along with contributions from Paul Reinman and Jack Davis.
Barry shares his perspective on how Atlas-era stories anticipated and paralleled themes of Marvel’s superhero era. For example, he discusses how the May 1962 story appearing on the cover of the volume, “The Man in the Bee-Hive!”, echoes Ant-Man’s January 1962 origin story. One interesting thing this illustrates is that Marvel’s Atlas and superhero eras were overlapping. Barry even cites an instance of a Hulk poster appearing in the background of one Ditko-drawn horror story!
Barry wraps up with reflections on the transition from Marvel’s monster era to its superhero era. For anyone interested in monster comics, Marvel history, or the artists of the Atlas/Marvel era, this is a Masterwork worth reading.