A fanzine, as all of you know, is a fan magazine published because of a love for the subject instead of for profit. Nowadays, “fanzines” are all over the web. (Like Spiderfan!) All you need is a little bandwidth and a little storage space, plus all of that zeal and love and dedication and what not. But years ago, when comic fanzines started you needed to publish on paper and send your zine out to your subscribers. First you had to establish a readership. (Jerry Bails began this by contacting the people whose letters were published in The Brave and the Bold #35 and going from there.) Once you had other connections, you could also get other writers and artists. Then, you had to make duplicate copies…without printers and without copiers. To do this you had to have access to either a mimeograph machine or what we used to call a ditto machine. Neither of these processes is particularly durable and that makes original copies scarce. The ones that survive often flirt with being unreadable due to fading and ink spreading. The finished product is stapled together like a term paper.
Now, comic fanzines began in the 1930s as a subset to science fiction fanzines but the Silver Age super-hero zines didn’t start appearing until the early 1960s. In 1961, Jerry Bails began one of the best-remembered super-hero fanzines; Alter Ego which has since morphed into Roy Thomas’ professional publication. But there was more than just Alter Ego. In this series of From the Beginning reviews, I’m going to look at four issues from three different fanzines; each issue tying in to Spider-Man in some way. There are more than just these four issues, of course, but these are the only ones I have. If I ever get my hands on others, I will review those as well.
Let’s begin with Hero #2, with a 150 copy print run, dated Spring 1963, right on the cusp of the “Marvel Age.” (Yes, we have to step back from 1967. Can’t be helped.) The editor here is Larry Herndon. Not that Larry Herndon but the Larry Herndon who was part of the fans who called themselves the Texas Trio (the others being Buddy Saunders, who went on to start Lone Star Comics, and the late Howard Keltner). Hero had four total issues from December 1962 to Summer 1964. The Texas Trio also published “Star-Studded Comics” for 18 issues from 1963 to 1972.
The cover of Hero #1 shows Spider-Man with other heroes amidst a mushroom cloud denoting the “Hero Boom.” But this issue’s cover is Spidey’s alone. It is a nice drawing of the web-slinger’s head by Buddy Saunder, signed S.B. (his initials backwards). The cover blurb highlights the “Point of View” article (“Top Fans discuss the Marvel heroes!”) but the issue begins with Rick Weingroff’s It’s Nice to Lee-ya; a brief lowdown on various Marvel heroes who are still so new that many views here are amusing in retrospect. Unfortunately, the article isn’t very well written but Rick does get his opinions across. Usually. Of the Human Torch, Rick says, “Obviously his powers are analogous to Green Lantern’s time limit of flames, duplicate Torches control of flames near by, weakness of water and a few less important powers are duplicated by the 24 hour time limit the creation of duplicate GL’s control of everything (except yellow) and lack of power against anything yellow in the case of Green Lantern.” Yikes!
To give you an idea of how early this article is, Rick says of Iron Man, “In that only one story of the Iron-Man [sic] has been published at the time this is being written, it is difficult to conjecture the power of the hero…The only really detrimental object in this character is his ‘costume”…I feel that a better costume would give this hero a certain flair that is otherwise lacking, but, in retrospect, the character is good anyway.” And, Rick got his wish of a new Iron Man costume in less than a year. Stan must have been listening.
But what does he say about Spider-Man? “The Amazing Spiderman [sic] is obviously the best of the new Marvel long-underwearers. In his corner is, first Steve Ditko, perhaps not the best artist, but an artist with a flair – a flair that sets his stories out from the crowd…Almost complicated – and yet very simple in design, the costume is the most interesting of the new hero’s costumes…Like his contemporaries, Spiderman has a gimmick – in this case the gimmick is the fact that he is now a wanted ‘criminal.’…The Spiderman idea might be overworked…but as of the first issue, I feel that the addition was definitely an asset. The particularly distinguishing point of this gimmick is that the Spiderman’s actions are misconstrued greatly and that a psuedo-moral [sic] is attached – freedom of the press is fine, but don’t believe everything you read in papers…Possibly, the most disparaging point of note is that the wonderful development possible on the fact that Peter is attempting to avenge the death of his uncle, and atone for his playboy techniques. This has been all but lost in the ‘new’ version, maybe of sound reasons, but I somehow feel that this little incident is as much a part of the character of Spiderman as any other thing.” He’s right, of course. But he didn’t have much material yet to work with, giving us fan analysis and criticism from just after the publication of Amazing Spider-Man #1, March 1963. Remarkable.
By the way, Nick Caputo has a rundown of this article where he goes into more depth and looks to see if Rick’s criticisms are addressed in the next few years. That’s here.
There are also non-Marvel related articles in the issue. An Obit for the Shield by Steve Perrin criticizes Simon and Kirby for revamping the 1940s MLJ character into Lancelot Strong while The Hero with Depth: Capt. 3-D by Fred Bronson praises the character’s lone issue from 1953. Of it, he says, “The origin of Captain 3-D is fascinating. I detect Jack Kirby artwork in the story – I think. …With the glasses the depth makes it hard to distinguish features that you recognize an artist by, so I am not committing myself – this just looks like a Simon and Kirby product.” And Fred is right. Not bad for someone bereft of any reference tool, looking at an comic book with no creator credits from the days when Kirby’s style was less distinctive and Simon and Kirby were producing multiple genres for multiple publishers.
Following a couple of gag cartoons conceived by Larry Herndon and drawn by noted fan artist Grass Green, we arrive at the cover article, Point of View. It looks like a roundtable discussion on Marvel Comics but as Rick Weingroff tells us, “The article is made up of opinions sent to me by several fans (Bob Butts, Buddy Saunders, and Al Kuhfeld), answering seven or eight questions which I sent to people who I feel will have a good, honest opinion on the topic.”
To the first question (“Who is your favorite Marvel hero”), Buddy answers “Spider-Man,” mostly because of Ditko’s artwork. Al concurs, liking the artwork, but also “because of Spider-Man’s sense of humor.” Bob picks Spidey and Ant-Man as his favorites but thinks “their adventures, when probable, [are] either too mundane or too outré. They can’t seem to hit the balance between science fiction and plausibility.” Al disagrees, pointing to the Vulture story from Amazing Spider-Man #2. Buddy also recommends the Doc Ock story from Amazing Spider-Man #3. Al adds that, “Certainly the introduction of a villain like the Vulture – with every bit as much dash as Namor or Doctor Doom – is worthy of a good deal of credit.” The three go on to praise Ditko, then to note that “there seems to be a change in the coloring. Marvel is more somber than DC and the layout of colors is different.” Buddy thinks that this “dark coloring” helps the Spidey strip. When the fans are asked for their favorite artists, only Bob picks both Ditko and Kirby. The others place Kirby down the list, behind Joe Sinnott and Don Heck. (Kirby does seem a bit slapdash and overworked in the early Marvel issues.) The group thinks that Iron Man and the Human Torch are sub-par (“In my opinion, the Torch is one of the most un-fantastic Fantastic Four,” says Bob.) and they think Namor should stay a villain. Buddy says, “Spiderman has just fought the Vulture and Dr. Octopus – two of the greatest villains around. I’d like to see the FF battle these two once and give Spiderman a crack at Dr. Doom and Namor.” The Spidey/Doom battle was coming right up in Amazing Spider-Man #5 The mention of the Sub-Mariner gets Bob hoping that Marvel will bring back Captain America. Buddy agrees but adds, “I want to see the return of Captain America – not the creation of a hero bearing only the Captain’s name. I don’t want another Human Torch incident!” (Because, as you all know, the Johnny Storm Human Torch is not the original Human Torch.) A footnote states that, “There is a RUMOR going around that Capt. America will appear in Strange Tales #114. This is JUST A RUMOR, but let’s hope it’s true!” Unfortunately, the Cap in ST #114 was not the real Captain America. Still, it wouldn’t be long until Avengers #4. Buddy fesses up that, “Actually, aside from Spiderman and Ant-Man, I have no great love for Marvel, (Fantastic Four not included, natch!) The Torch has crummy villains, Thor isn’t much better off and Iron Man is to be pitied.” The Hulk doesn’t receive any love either but Stan Lee does. Bob says, “It’s hard to explain but Lee’s flair for character development makes his characters some of the most plausible around.”
Rick summarizes the discussion in eight points.
Next, Howard Keltner contributes Presenting the Blue Beetle, Racket Buster Extraordinary, a history of the Golden Age Blue Beetle. In recounting the Beetle’s origin, Howard writes, “As seemed to be the custom of that day and time, the forces of evil brought upon themselves their just retribution by providing the motive of overwhelming desire for vengeance in an individual through the art of committing mayhem upon someone dear to him; in this case – murder.” Which is hard to argue with.
Ledderz features comments from a number of well-known fans of the time including Biljo White, Ronn Foss, Paul Gambaccini, Grass Green, and Howard Keltner. A mail order of back issues from Mike Karl of Brooklyn offers FF #4 in VG for 55 cents, #5 in Mint for 50 cents, Hulk #1 in Mint for 70 cents and Amazing Fantasy #15 in Mint for 60 cents. Which is, I think, a good place to stop.
I love things that take me back in time and make me feel the immediacy and newness of it. Ordinarily, I try to review in the same spirit but it’s difficult to do that here. With its early jump on reviewing the Marvel heroes, Hero #3 would have been a good fun read at the time. Now, with over 50 years of subsequent Marvel history, it feels like a time capsule. A wonderful, revelatory time capsule.
Five webs. With only 150 copies printed 53 years ago, it may be difficult to score a copy. Don’t sweat it. This rating isn’t a recommendation to buy. More an appreciation of its place in Marvel history.
Only three fanzines to go and then it’s on to ’68! Next up is another gem from 1963: Jeddak #3.