Marvel Milestones (part 3): The Silver Age Begins

MakeMineMarvelDC kicked off a superhero revival in the late 50s with new versions of its classic heroes, and followed that success with the Justice League of America, a team comprised of their most popular heroes. Goodman’s Marvel Comics, responded with the Fantastic Four, and a new era began for the MU. Stan Lee was the creative force behind most of Marvel’s most iconic heroes, working in the early days with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, and eventually John Romito, Sr., Jim Steranko, Jim Starlin, and others to bring them to life. Marvel heroes were portrayed as real people, often with real-life problems. Great attention ways paid to crafting a coherent “universe” in which they lived, centered in real-life New York City. Stories connected to real-life events (every president since FDR has been featured in a Marvel comic!). Comics moved to the forefront of popular culture.

Related Events: “The Sixties,” Vietnam War (1964-73), Civil Rights Mvt. (1954-68)

Important Terms: popular culture, metaphor, Baby Boomers, counter-culture

Discussion Points:

  • What made Marvel Comics different from DC Comics?
  • Why did Marvel Comics appeal to older readers (such as college students)?
  • How did Marvel interpret/reflect social issues of the sixties?

View Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked segment 3 (@34:50-54:00)


1961-2 Marvel’s “First Family,” the Fantastic Four (Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Girl, Thing, Human Torch) debuts in Fantastic Four #1 (Nov. 1961).  Alien Skrulls 1st appear in #2.  Ultimate Marvel villain Victor von Doom makes his first appearance in #5.

Fantastic_Four_Vol_1_1    Fantastic_Four_Vol_1_5

1962-64   The “Marvel Universe” expands with iconic characters, old and new.  The Sub-Mariner returns, “discovered” suffering from amnesia by the FF’s Human Torch (FF #4, May 1962). He makes regular guest-appearances in FF, then in 1965 begins to share the Tales to Astonish title with the Hulk in #70-101).

Fantastic_Four_Vol_1_4     Tales_to_Astonish_Vol_1_70

Dr. Hank Pym first used shrinking particles to become the size of an ant in Tales to Astonish #27, then invented a way to communicate with them and became Ant Man (TTA #35, Sept. 1962).  He was joined by partner Janet Van Dyne (the Wasp) in TTA #44, and ultimately learned to grow into Giant Man (TTA #49, Nov. 1963).

Tales_to_Astonish_Vol_1_27 Tales_to_Astonish_Vol_1_35 Tales_to_Astonish_Vol_1_44 Tales_to_Astonish_Vol_1_49

Dr. Bruce Banner, bombarded by “gamma rays,” becomes the Hulk (Hulk #1, May 1962; Hulk will do a number of guest appearances in other titles and later share the Tales to Astonish tile with Giant Man (#59-69).

Incredible_Hulk_Vol_1_1    Tales_to_Astonish_Vol_1_60

Teenager Peter Parker, bitten by a radioactive spider, becomes Spider-Man (Amazing Fantasy #15, Aug. 1963).  In the first issue of his own title (March 1963), he meets the Fantastic Four, and Johnny Storm appears at Peter Parker’s high school in ASM #3!

Amazing_Fantasy_Vol_1_15 Amazing_Spider-Man_Vol_1_1

The thunder god Thor awakens in Dr. Don Blake (Journey into Mystery #83, Aug. 1962); Hulk appears in FF #12 and Tony Stark creates his first suit of Iron Man armor Tales of Suspense #39 (both March 1963); Dr. (Stephen) Strange first appears in a short story in Strange Tales #110 (July 1963), which has been featuring solo stories of the Human Torch since #101.  Torch and Strange share the title until #134 (though Torch gets cover preference).


The cover of Strange Tales #114 (Nov. 1962) teases readers with the return of Captain America.  This one turns out to be an imposter; but Cap’s actual return right around the corner following the formation of the Avengers (#1, Sept. 1963), a new team which gathered Iron Man, Thor, Ant Man, Wasp, and (briefly) the Hulk.  The Avengers soon find the real Cap frozen in suspended animation in #4 (March 1964), offering up a new story that he and Bucky had been lost on a mission in 1945 and presumed dead.

Strange_Tales_Vol_1_114    Avengers_Vol_1_4

The same month that Marvel launched the Avengers, another team made up of young mutants Cyclops (Scott Summers), Marvel Girl (Jean Grey), Iceman (Bobby Drake), Beast (Hank McCoy), and Angel (Warren Worthington) are gathered together “In the Sensational Fantastic Four Style” by Charles Xavier, “Professor X” in X-Men #1 (Sept. 1963).  They are connected to the broader MU through an appearance with Iron Man in ToS #49 (Jan. 1964).

X-Men_Vol_1_1     Tales_of_Suspense_Vol_1_49

Nick Fury’s WWII exploits leading a squad of ethnically-diverse characters are told in Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos (beginning in May 1963).  “Present day” Fury (now with an eye patch) first appeared as a CIA agent in FF #21 (Dec. 1963) and became the Director of super-spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D.  in Strange Tales #135 (Aug. 1965).

Sgt_Fury_and_his_Howling_Commandos_Vol_1_1   Strange_Tales_Vol_1_135

In 1964, a multi-series crossover (primarily in the form of guest appearances) begins in Avengers #3 with the disgruntled Hulk and Sub-Mariner joining forces.  Hulk then battles Thor in JIM #112, and Sub-Mariner turns up in Avengers #4 (where he angrily throws Cap’s ice block into the sea for the Avengers to find on their way back from the encounter in Av #3!).  Meanwhile the Thing and the on-the-run Hulk face off in FF #25 (in which the Avengers also appear).  Finally the Avengers catch up with the Hulk in the desert Southwest in Av #5, where they manipulate him into helping defeat the Lava Men.

Avengers_Vol_1_3    Journey_into_Mystery_Vol_1_112

Fantastic_Four_Vol_1_25     Avengers_Vol_1_5

Blind lawyer Matt Murdock becomes Daredevil (Daredevil #1, Apr. 1964; notice the cross-title references on the cover!).  Spider-Man nemesis the Green Goblin (Norman Osborn) appears in ASM #14 (July 1964), along with the Hulk (he really gets around!).

Daredevil_Vol_1_1     Amazing_Spider-Man_Vol_1_14

In late 1964, Cap and Iron Man begin sharing the ToS title (continues #59-99).  ToS #63 featured a retelling of Cap’s origin story, and his stories from then through #72 are set in WW II and include “The Fantastic Origin of the Red Skull” in #66.  After all of the original Avengers resign in Av #16 (May 1965), Captain America is left to form a new team made up of two mutant siblings (Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver) and super-archer Hawkeye (Clint Barton).

Avengers_Vol_1_16 Tales_of_Suspense_Vol_1_59

Rounding out a half-decade of energetic creative frenzy, the core players of the modern MU are finally set.  In 1965 the Avengers and X-Men face off in X-Men #9 and Daredevil guest-stars in FF #39.  In FF Annual #3 (Oct. 1965) everyone got together (villains included!) when Reed Richards and Susan Storm were married!  Spider-man and Daredevil, who would find common ground in the gritty streets of New York (and share a common enemy in the Kingpin), meet up for the first time in Daredevil #16 (May 1966).

X-Men_Vol_1_9     Fantastic_Four_Vol_1_39


Up Next:  the MU goes global, cosmic, and more!

About Rick D. Williams

Teaching and writing have been my life's work for over two decades as a journalist and educator. My degrees in History were earned at Illinois State University, and I've done additional graduate work at Lincoln Christian Seminary and Urbana Theological Seminary. Over the years I’ve led conference workshops and authored articles and book chapters on topics ranging from religious education and international student ministry to state and local history.
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