Week 9: The Early Marvel keys

As comic collectors, we’ve all seen the covers to these Marvel keys featured below. I did a thought exercise and I couldn’t visualize even one of these splash pages in my head. I was close on a couple of the motifs but… its a bit embarrassing actually. I’ve leafed through hundreds of these books over the years making sure the page counts were right before I made my offers but it seems I never really stopped to “smell the roses” so to speak. Once I saw these most became familiar but its just that they were not ingrained in my head.

I’m going to feature the Marvel key issues up to 1962, I’ll leave the 1963/64 stuff for later in the year. Because its 1962 Marvel we are Kirby heavy but today is not about artist variety, it’s about putting a splash to a familiar face.

Fantastic Four #1, November 1961, the book that started the revolution. Truth be told Kirby’s cover was never anything really special for me and neither is the splash page. Early days.

I’ve always called Tales to Astonish #27, January 1962, the 2nd Marvel key, avoiding the sci/fi story versus superhero story in Tales to Astonish #35 by pretending not to hear. This is my favourite splash of the bunch; visually very satisfying.

The splash page to Hulk #1, May 1962, was the one I recalled the most. For some reason, several coverless copies have gone through my hands over the years and this splash is so distinct/in your face with the Hulk that it’s hard to forget.

The splash to Journey into Mystery #83, August 1962, was the one I felt I’ve never seen before. I never collected Thor and don’t recall ever having a coverless copy. This is a strong Kirby splash page, I’ll remember it from here on in.

Yay, a non-Kirby! Steve Ditko uses the splash page to Amazing Fantasy #15, August 1962, to great effect. Am I right when I say that the original art to AF #15 was donated by someone to the Smithsonian?

Walter Durajlija
Walter Durajlija

Walter Durajlija is an Overstreet Advisor and Shuster Award winner. He owns Big B Comics in Hamilton Ontario.

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  1. I have never seen these in the original books, only in reprints, and I also couldn’t have recalled them if asked. I would use the DC fanboy defense, although honestly I can only confidently describe the (non-splash) first page of Detective #27 offhand.

    I agree that the TTA #27 is the most visually satisfying, while AF #15 wins for creative concept. (Bud Plant mentioned Sergio Aragones in a recent comment, and my first thought after looking at the Ditko was the great “The Shadow Knows” strip that he did with this concept.)

    Yes AF #15 original art donated to the Smithsonian:


    And the anonymous donor was…? (Bud must know.) I overheard some other interesting scuttlebutt on this topic while I was near an amazing original art booth at NYCC this year. (It just blew my mind – the guy had piles of ~$2k original pages strewn around here and there, and a bunch of ~$20k covers just kind of thumbtacked to the booth’s walls – must be nice to be able to take a few thousand dollars damage in stride.):

    – A visitor to the booth said that he had fairly easily made an appointment to view these at the Smithsonian. I see this corroborated here:


    – The dealer started talking about rumors about what Ditko had in his apartment, and people who had supposedly been in and out of it a) before he died, b) before he was actually reported as dead, and c) before his executors got a handle on things. Talk about material for a book – but anybody making out on any nefarious activity won’t be talking…

  2. Walt

    you are 100% correct , someone had all the art to AF 15 and donated it to the Smithsonian . it is rumored someone stole the art to it back in the day and had held unto it all this time ! I’ve heard thru the grapevine who it was , but , cannot mention the name for fear of being sued for libel !

  3. Great pieces! For some krazy reason, I bought FF #1 off the spinner rack as a nine year old in 1961. And Astonish #22, and a Journey Into Mystery with the “Sandman Cometh”..but my other purchases, limited as they were, were a Charlton or two, Brave and the Bold #34 with kubert’s Hawkman, a Strange Adventures around #150, Our Army at War with Sgt. rock..still love all those books.

    But the point being, I think the covers were all-important to a little kid like me. I was only a very sporadic comic buyer then, all over the map.

    So I didn’t buy another FF until #18, a full year and a half later, and I only started collecting with #27 in ‘64. At that point, I recalled I had seen these guys, the Ff, before, but the art was “different.” I searched my house, top to bottom, and found #18 in the attic or basement, somewhere, but never found #1. Got one later on, of course, around the time they sold for $5 or so. I sold my upgraded fine copy for $40 in the early seventies, so not so smart. But I have always loved both that FF splash and the entire story. However, Johnny storm melting his way out of the car he was working on was great drama, but made no sense at all to a kid also enamored with hot rods….

    Small world, Walter, I used that same GREAT Thor splash as a catalog cover in 1994. Artistically, I think its your best choice here. Kirby nailed it. Let’s see if I can give you guys the image of that catalog… **. …Oh well, no can do. Don’t know how to paste a picture here. But I did find that catalog on ebay for $9.95. Easier than searching through my inventory of old catalogs.

    Love that Hulk, too. Reminds me of those first stories in #1-6, fun stuff, when Hulk was a real menace to everyone. I imagine a lot of early Marvel fans were really bummed when they dropped the title, since obviously stan was on to something great. I didn’t pick up any of those first issues off the stands, so I was no help. I think I only found him later in 1964, first in his first Avengers appearances or guest-starring in Spidey #14, before he hot back into Tales to Astonish as a regular feature.

  4. While all these are historically significant splashes and some with dynamic art ( i.e. JoM)… the AF I find the most interesting… and I tried to look at it as if I had never seen these characters before… which is a bit difficult.

  5. You too, Klaus?

    I bought a Fine copy of MF51 back in 1970 for $10., from a comic seller in Virginia. When i called him to make my order of several comics on his sales list, he was genuinely shocked that we had phones in Canada.

  6. My copy is about fair with tape down the spine and some missing pages. I bought it from a store in New Brunswick in 1989 for 25.00. It looks pretty good in a bag though and the spectre panel is there.

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