Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Life In Four Colors (Part Twenty-Nine)

My growing fascination with Marvel Comics grew even stronger through the summer of 1965. Gary Steele had rapidly become my best friend, and that summer we were virtually inseparable. Either both of us were at his house, or both of us were at my house; it helped that we lived only a brisk ten minute walk away from one another, so we could wander from Marchmont Drive to Leon Street on a whim. And we were both positively fascinated by the Marvel Universe, with its ever-expanding links that made every book an interconnected part of a larger whole.

Today, comics are so continuity based that it may seem odd to imagine a time when continuity wasn't a vital part of comics. That's exactly the situation over at DC, however, where almost every comic was set a self-contained pocket universe, a corner of the DCU where interaction was pretty much nonexistent and books could be read in almost any order because the status quo was re-established by the last page of each and every issue. The stories were well-crafted, of course, but there was no sense of a larger reality. They'd try to establish that bigger picture with the annual JLA/JSA crossovers or the occasional Atom/Hawkman or Green Lantern/Flash crossover story, but even those adventures had no impact on the big picture.

The best way to understand it is to watch a syndicated episode of Leave It To Beaver or The Andy Griffith Show or Gomer Pyle or I Dream of Jeannie. Watch one episode and you've got the premise. Now watch other episodes in pretty much any order, and you realize that it doesn't matter. The premise is always preserved, nothing really changes, and the stories are designed to be appealing little vignettes. That's what made syndication so successful back then; we could watch those shows over and over again, in any order, and it made for comfortable viewing because we always knew what the situation was, how everyone was going to act, and how things would wrap up.

Not so with the Marvel Universe. Their war book, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, seemed to be set in its own WWII pocket universe... but then Sgt. Fury met Captain America, and then he met Reed Richards, and later on he turned up as a government agent assisting the Fantastic Four as they confronted the Hate-Monger, and a little while after that he became an agent (and then the director) of SHIELD.

Thor might show up in a Human Torch adventure--not as a guest star, but just making a cameo appearance for a panel or two. These characters all operated in the same world, after all, so it was likely that they'd cross paths from time to time.

That concept of continuity defined Marvel from early on. The company tried to establish corporate barriers, adding captions that one character appeared with permission of such-and-such publishing, but it was obvious that it was all one comics line, and there was a relatively small group of creators telling the stories of all these characters.

We were fascinated. We'd look for little clues as to how things fit together; we'd try to figure out just what Thor was doing when the FF were battling Dr. Doom, just to establish a greater time-line.

For junior high school kids looking for something a little more sophisticated, the Marvel Universe filled the bill perfectly. So by the summer of 1965, I was a Marvel Maniac. I bought other comics, but I did so because of my appreciation of the art form; Marvel was my comics passion.

1 comment:

Doug said...

I enjoy reading your autobiographical series! Keep 'em coming!