Welcome to Marvel Librarian, the new feature covering historic Marvel comics from the point of view of someone experiencing them for the first time.
What do you think of when you hear the words “Amazing Adult Fantasy”? I’m guessing it probably wasn’t Twilight Zone-esque shorts stories with twist endings, so I’m sorry to disappoint you on that front.
During this era of Marvel Comics, a lot of their books were anthology books, with four to five short stories in one issue. Some of them, like last week’s Rawhide Kid, were loosely connected by a main character. Others, like this weeks’ books, have no connection between the short stories at all, except perhaps in the way they lay bare the anxieties of the era. Cold War paranoia, alien invasion, and criminals being brought to justice are by far the most prevalent themes here.
The tagline for this comic book is “the magazine that respects your intelligence” which seems like a fairly lofty goal. Let’s see if it can measure up…
The first story has a classic setup. A man discovers a spaceship crashed in the woods. Inside the ship, he finds a log detailing the alien’s plan to disguise himself as a human and infiltrate Earth that way. The man who found the spaceship runs to the newspaper, police, and army, and none of them believe him. Finally, he meets a college professor who agrees to entertain his story. The professor is the alien in disguise, right? Nope…
The professor points out that only the alien himself could have understood the language in the alien’s log. The man in the story is actually the alien, who suffered from amnesia and forgot he disguised himself as a human. There’s a number of leaps of logic there, but okay, this is a cute ending. I’m with you so far, Amazing Adult Fantasy.
I actually quite liked the next story in the book, as well. Sidney Blake here is terrified of war and nuclear annihilation. He’s so rich that he can afford to build a bunker with every amenity where he can live safely for years. He retreats to said bunker, and then, months later, his instruments register bomb blasts on the surface. He laughs, thinking he made the right choice and saved himself from the apocalypse.
Once the blasts subside, he leaves his bunker to find all of civilization still intact, except there are no people. He learns that a new paradise planet was discovered and all of humanity flew off — the “bomb blasts” were actually the rockets taking off.
This is a good example of how a lot of these stories feel like Twilight Zone knockoffs — reasonably clever, but not nearly as solidly executed. The final realization here is a lot like the end of Time Enough at Last, but in that case the setup is far more sensible. Even in that episode, it kind of falls apart a bit when you think that he might be able to find new glasses (a scenario spoofed in Futurama). Here, you have to wonder what this planet is and how 1960s Earth managed to get all of humanity there in just the couple months since this guy locked himself away. But then again, these stories aren’t really meant for someone to come along and analyze to death. They’re meant to provide a quick, entertaining twist before moving on to the next one.
The next story is about a witch hunt, and I just love this panel of the witch, even though this scene is not a thing that actually happens in the story.
Anyway, this woman gets put on trial for being a witch. Her lover defends her at the trial and she is cleared of charges. As they ride away in a carriage, the horse gets spooked and the woman is thrown to the ground. She needs immediate medical attention. And so this happens:
Pilgrim boy is just so happy to be a witch!
One of the most common themes in these stories is a criminal trying to escape the law. In the next story, the wanted murderer breaks into a professor’s home to use his experimental time machine to go back in time and…
Wow, that’s a face.
When he goes back in time, the very first thing he does is get paranoid about someone looking at him, and punches his lights out. He immediately ends up back in the present because he killed the professor in the past, which meant he never invented the time machine.
And then, seconds later, the entirety of the space-time continuum collapses because of the time paradox.
Okay, no, but that would have been a great ending. I bet Kirby could draw the collapse of the space-time continuum.
The issue closes out with a mediocre tale about aliens who look scary and threatening, but then a human child befriends them and look, they were just as scared of us as we were of them!
They’re really doubling down on the idea that these are Respectable Adult Comics. Not only is it the magazine that respects your intelligence, but it’s specifically noted as “for the more mature reader.”
“Krills” is a lame name for your alien menace, but at least we have some cool art.
That’s probably the best thing about this story, which has a twist you can see coming a mile away. Ugly green aliens invade a remote radar outpost, promising the two men inside that they’ll be rewarded with fabulous wealth and beautiful brides if they disable the radar, allowing the aliens to land undetected. One steadfastly refuses and the other accepts. This turns out how you might expect for the traitor to Earth…
Yes, his beautiful bride is another ugly green alien. Good thing they gave her eyelashes and a feminine haircut so we’d know she’s a female ugly green alien.
Honestly, this guy is creepy, a traitor to Earth, and lives in a remote radar outpost. Maybe he should give her a chance.
This story is about a notorious con man. With his victims as naive as the above, it’s hard to really feel too sorry for them.
He buys a dilapidated castle for cheap, and the grand con he has planned is… to dress it up as a haunted castle and sell tickets as a tourist attraction. I guess technically that’s a kind of con, but unlike the stuff he was pulling in the introduction, it’s not illegal or even particularly immoral.
It turns out that the castle actually is haunted, the ghost living there scares the con man to death, and the con man becomes the new castle ghost. I guess this is supposed to be ironic justice, but… the haunted castle tourist attraction thing really wasn’t a transgression that needed justice, so… whatever.
Seriously, these title pages are usually the best part of the story.
Case in point: this story is about a hypnotist who decides to rob a movie theater by playing a movie of him hypnotizing the audience. The problem is that he’s in the audience and he ends up hypnotized by his own movie.
The next story is also kind of lame. A child finds a yo-yo that can do impossible tricks. It turns out that the yo-yo was dropped by his son from the future, who was visiting the present day.
I’m mostly just including this panel because I like the mom’s outfit here. Usually they go outlandish with future outfits, but I can actually see something like this being stylish.
I can’t help but feel they were kind of phoning in this issue. Here’s a tale about an alien who comes to Earth. He looks like a giant centipede, and the National Guard opens fire on him. He leaves, dropping a note that said he was going to share with us the secrets of eternal life and peace. And so, Man is the Real Monster.
This panel is heavy-handed even by the standards of The Magazine That Respects Your Intelligence.
I’m sorry, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, but if you want me to take this seriously you have to come up with a more menacing name than “Tim Boo Ba.”
But actually, that’s kind of the point. We’re treated to several pages’ worth of the narration describing Tim Boo Ba’s lust for conquest and lack of mercy, until, on the final page, he suddenly gets taken out in a massive flood. A flood caused by…
The mighty Tim Boo Ba, his armies and slaves were all microscopic creatures living on this little boy’s papier mache solar system. Cute twist, and I like how the flood comes out of nowhere. The message that even the mightiest tyrant can be wiped out in a freak occurrence isn’t a bad one, either.
Depicted: Yours truly writing about comic books.
This old man is an inventor who is searching for immortality, and so he invents a machine to capture Death itself. At the moment when he is about to give out, Death comes to him, and he successfully activates it.
I love this depiction of Death. The use of shadow and silhouette here, with the dismal blue light and the splash of red at the bottom, lends the perfect gloom to the scene. It’s a small touch, but Death’s speech bubble lacking punctuation lets you imagine the cadence here.
Since the old man has captured Death, nothing can die, including insects, rats, and microbes. Patients in hospitals suffer from diseases that can’t be cured, but they also cannot die. “And the aged, praying for the long sleep to ease their pain, find no such blissful answer to their longing,” a particularly bleak narration box reads. The old man realizes the error of his ways and goes willingly with Death, who promises him eternal peace.
The premise is not original, but the art and narration really elevate this one.
Here we have another story about alien visitors to Earth. This one comes in peace and friendship. He has a flawless human disguise, and his plan is to go to a highly populated city block and announce his arrival. Of course, everyone just ignores and avoids the ordinary looking man screaming that he’s an alien from the planet Xenia, and the alien leaves in disgust.
There’s an additional twist that it was April Fool’s Day, but this seems pretty superfluous. It’s not like people would immediately believe some guy screaming he’s a space alien any other day of the year, after all.
This tale is about an evil Swami who tricks widows into thinking he’s contacting their dead husbands, and then swindles them out of their money. All is going well for him until one of the spirits turns out to be real, demands the money, and then… disappears the Swami and his money into the afterlife, I guess? It’s a decent setup, but the comeuppance doesn’t really make much sense.
This really gives me a lot of confidence that this story will be worth reading, you know?
As you might expect, it’s a story of a foolish teenager who summons a Genie and gets way in over his head. Unlike most of these stories, it’s not really even a malicious Genie. He grants the teen’s wishes for money and flight with no problems, but then, for some reason, the teen wishes to be the largest thing on Earth and that everything other than the Earth disappear, which… okay. So the sun is gone and the Earth is spinning out of control, which I’m not sure is right but I don’t really want to quibble about the physics of the entire universe disappearing. The teen wishes to be back in the moment before he summoned the Genie, which apparently leads to a stable time loop — hence the note above about the story not really having a beginning or end.
So this dipshit teen trapped everyone to relive the same few minutes over and over again for all eternity. Way to go, kid.
Cool monster design here, but “Those Who Change” really isn’t all that menacing a tagline.
It doesn’t help that we start with this splash page of what seems to be a weird thing looking up out of a toilet bowl:
This one’s a time travel story, and a pretty good one, even if “Those Who Change” is an undescriptive name. A team of scientists is showing off their new invention to a professor. It’s a machine that can send objects back in time, and they demonstrate with an iron ball. They charge the machine, the ball disappears, and they explain that they have figured out how to send objects back in time, but can’t get them back again.
Which, of course, means that they have no way of knowing that they actually did send the ball back in time. All they know is that they made it disappear.
The professor points out that sending objects back in time could change the course of history, which is basically Time Travel 101 and something you’d think this team would have already thought about.
One of the examples he uses for catastrophic consequences is that Paul Revere’s horse could have been startled, causing him to be unable to finish his ride — which is a funny example, given that Revere was actually captured and didn’t finish his ride.
Another example he gives is that they could send back something that injures Columbus, and I don’t really see the downside to that one, I have to say.
The scientists ignore him and continue there work, bringing the iron ball back, which, again, doesn’t seem to actually prove that it went back in time, but at least their next experiment should — they’re going to send back a camera, which seems like as sensible a choice as any.
Naturally, that camera smacks the shit out of the first lizard attempting to crawl onto land, in this darkly humorous panel.
This results in the present-day scientists turning into lizard people without realizing anything has actually changed. I’m not at all sure how that follows from what happened here, but whatever. Time travel!
I was less into the next story, which involves an evil regent who keeps his young ward, the future king, in line by constantly threatening to change him into a toad. As the boy becomes more troublesome, he plots to, well, sell him to a completely inappropriate depiction of Roma people. When this plan fails by the boy waking up as he’s being kidnapped — he really didn’t think this through very well — he tries to change the boy into a toad for real, and somehow accidentally turns himself into a toad. If he had the power to turn people into toads all along, why wouldn’t he just do that to begin with?
We’re treated to another really striking splash panel. I like the creepiness of the formation that looks a little bit like clouds, a little bit like rocks, and a little bit like a hulking creature.
This one has two human astronauts searching for life in a distant galaxy. They’re astonished that they have found no life anywhere in the galaxy, implying that life on other planets is extremely common. They come to the conclusion that this galaxy must be unusually inhospitable to life and decide that humans can never try to colonize it. As they depart, the planets themselves come to life.
The next story is about an aging tightrope artist, creatively named “Flippo,” who begs for one more chance to do his act, and the little girl who is his biggest fan. He gets his opportunity when the current tightrope act fails to show up, but quickly bungles his performance, falling into the net. The little girl was thrilled to see him on the tightrope again, thinking his fall was just part of the act.
But then! The little girl gets terribly sick and is dying. In her feverish state, she talks about how much she loved to watch Flippo. Flippo miraculously shows up, and agrees to do a tightrope act right outside her hospital window, using a wire strung between two trees. He does his act better than ever, the girl recovers, and of course her father then reveals that Flippo died from his fall into the net.
Finally, we have the tale of Karl Kragg, the world’s greatest strongman and all around nasty guy. To get the point across, the first page has him turning down a request to visit a children’s hospital and harassing a woman with unwanted advances.
Aliens visit, because we’re still in the pages of Amazing Adult Fantasy. Instead of wanting to either wage war or give humanity untold technology, these aliens just want to hold a strongman contest. Kragg eagerly agrees to go, and even though the other aliens are much larger and more muscular, he bests them all easily. It turns out that the aliens were all throwing the contest because the “reward” is to be turned into a statue.
I hope we’ve all learned a valuable lesson about alien strongman contests.
Do strange, sinister creatures walk among us in human form? That’s been the plot of at least one story per book so far, so I’m going to say the answer is “yes.”
I kind of love the fairly minimalist design of the creatures in this story. It’s almost like a Dr. Seuss character or something from an old Hanna-Barbera cartoon like Herculoids.
Zogg goes to Earth with the goal of disguising himself as one of the “supreme life form,” but when he gets here, he can’t decide what the supreme life form is. He briefly considers humans, but then thinks the humans are merely the slaves of cars, and you’d think an alien capable of spaceflight would be able to recognize the difference between organic life and machines.
He finally decides that the rulers of Earth must be the creatures that are free and everywhere. He turns himself into a fly and is promptly swatted. The final panel of a human swatting the disguised Zogg is a whole lot like that panel of the unsuspecting kid killing the despot Tim Boo Ba from the last issue.
The next story takes place in the far-off year of 2061, and let’s try not to think about how we’re much closer to the year 2061 then we are to the year 1961, when these comics were written.
This one concerns a criminal who decides to move his car thieving operation to Jupiter, because he’s heard criminal sentencing is easy there. To his surprise, when he’s caught and convicted, he is given life in prison.
He’s subject to hard labor and harsh conditions, but before long, another prisoner says he has located an escape tunnel. That escape tunnel leads the criminal straight into peril with dinosaurs and sea creatures — clearly just an excuse for Ditko to draw some cool monsters — but he finally manages to escape.
The twist? He was just hypnotized into thinking he escaped. He’ll stay locked up for the rest of his life while imagining he is free, and that is why Jupiter’s prison sentences are considered merciful.
In this story, scientists have invented a spaceship that can travel to the end of the universe. Since they believe the pilot of the spaceship might not return, they choose this guy, who is already “doomed by an incurable disease.” Those dead eyes look like any number of people I see commuting each day. Well, when I commuted, anyway.
One thing that’s interesting about the science fiction of the day is what they get right and what they get wrong. They uniformly assume that space travel will continue to become more and more ambitious, but fail to recognize a lot of the now-mundane utility of personal computing, because it’d be a couple of decades still before that became a mainstream idea. So you get things like this, where society can build a spaceship that can reach the edge of the universe, but they still need a human to pilot it and report on what he sees, instead of just sending a drone.
Anyway, the man comes back as a baby cured of his disease, because that’s what the edge of the universe does to you, I guess. “Perhaps that is the secret of the universe… where there is life, there is always hope!” says one of the men who opens the returning capsule. That’s a nice sentiment, but I’m not sure how that follows from what happened here.
Some call him the Abominable Snowman / Some call him the legendary ice monster / Some call him Maurice (slide whistle)
In a small, remote village, the villagers are routinely getting their valuables heisted by a mysterious thief. Some believe it’s an ice monster who comes down in the hills and likes jewelry, I suppose. Meanwhile, the actual jewel thief evades the authorities, buries his stolen goods under a tree, and skips town.
When he comes back, he discovers that the tree where he buried his loot has now been surrounded by new construction, so he can’t safely get at it. Because he attended the Scooby-Doo School of Villainy, he decides what he’ll do is dress himself up as an ice monster and scare the villagers away.
If you guessed that the actual ice monster shows up, good job. He ends up being dragged away by the real ice monster, who is lonely and wants a companion.
And he would’ve gotten away with it, too.
There’s a big splash page advertising that Amazing Adult Fantasy will start featuring a letters column, and asking readers to write in. I think Marvel Unlimited’s scans of the comics are a bit inconsistent about whether or not they include letters columns, but I do plan to talk about them if I spot something interesting.
The last story we’ll cover is set in the Civil War. Young Jimmy goes off to fight — the comic declines to note what side he’s fighting for — promising his parents he’ll return someday. The war ends, soldiers come marching home, and he doesn’t come back.
Finally, one day, Jimmy appears on the farm, standing and staring straight ahead. His parents go to embrace him and find him to be incorporeal. They realize that he’s a ghost, fulfilling his promise to return.
And the last twist:
It was actually Jimmy’s parents who died, and he puts their spirits to rest by returning, as he promised.
Amazing Adult Fantasy would only last for a few more issues after this, making it a very short-lived comic — at least in the technical sense. For issue #15, they decided to rename the comic to Amazing Fantasy to draw in more child and teen readers. Amazing Fantasy #15 is, of course, one of the most famous comics of all time: the origin of Spider-Man. That was the last issue of Amazing Fantasy, but it would live on as Amazing Spider-Man for many decades to come.
We’ll get to Amazing Fantasy #15 — it’d be a little odd to have a feature on Marvel superhero comics without it!
So what did I think of pre-Spider-Man Amazing Fantasy? For all its cheesiness and obvious twists, it’s actually quite charming, frequently featuring intriguing art and snappy stories that don’t overstay their welcome. As a child who grew up on a steady diet of Twilight Zone reruns and collections of sci-fi short stories, I can easily imagine loving a comic like this one, even if it is ostensibly tailored towards adults. The constant themes of space travel and paranoia also make it an interesting curio of its times.
Reading this was especially interesting to me because you can see how the Marvel superhero output derives from this sort of story just as much as it does from the Golden Age superheroes that preceded it. Comics like Fantastic Four are full of bizarre happenings and otherworldly invaders, and are the better for it. In fact, the second FF comic involves aliens that disguise themselves as humans to infiltrate society, a concept pulled straight from these pages.
Next time on Marvel Librarian! I could be a Skrull, you could be a Skrull, anyone could be a Skrull as the Fantastic Four battle the Skrulls from Outer Space! I’ll also be covering the debut of the Four’s costumes and car with Fantastic Four 2 -3, plus bonus comic Strange Tales #97.