It started with 1958’s Strange Worlds #1, an issue that signalled the beginning of two momentous eras at Marvel: the return of Jack Kirby to the Marvel Bullpen and the beginning of Marvel’s Monster Age.
“I Discovered the Secret of the Flying Saucers!” marked Kirby’s official return to Marvel, a place at which he had not worked since 1941 (not counting a handful of short stories in 1956 and 1957). His arrival couldn’t have come at a better time for Lee; the introduction of the Comics Code and general anti-comics hysteria in the 1950s had taken their toll on the entire industry, and Lee’s shoestring office survived by pumping out books quickly and cheaply. Fortunately, Kirby was able to churn out material at a rate fast enough to convince owner Martin Goodman to keep the lights on for a little while longer. Three years later, Kirby and Lee introduced the Fantastic Four to the world… and the rest, as they say, is history.
But before they got to have fun with superheroes, Kirby and Lee produced a lot of stories about giant monsters threatening humanity. Why giant monsters? Part of Marvel’s strategy at the time was to ride whatever trend was selling as far as they could go with it. Westerns, war, romance, funny animals, teen humor — whatever was selling at the time, Marvel would flood the market with that type of book until it moved on to the next big thing. And it just so happened the late 1950s was a time in which nuclear paranoia spawned a wave of “creature features” about oversized monsters, with films like Them!, The Giant Behemoth, and It Came From Beneath the Sea (not to mention 1954’s Godzilla and all its sequels) packing them in down at the theatre.
Read a bunch of these comics in a row and you notice three things: (1) The monster-versus-mankind mini-operas comprising each story’s plot are so rigidly formulaic they make Japanese Kabuki look like a madcap improv class by comparison. (2) My God, that Kirby knew how to draw his monsters. (3) Kirby and Lee clearly had fun coming up with crazy names for their massive monsters, with “Fin Fang Foom,” “Tim Boo Ba” and “Orrgo the Unconquerable” among my personal faves. (4) More than a few monster names would end up recycled in their future superhero mags.
Your mission: Try to guess the names of the giant monsters featured on the covers below, knowing that each monster shares the name of a Marvel character. If you need help, place your cursor over each image to find a hint that might help. And remember: Stan and Jack didn’t keep track of which names they used, so there’s a good chance you’ll find two monsters below sharing the same name.
1. “ELEKTRO: HE HELD THE WORLD IN HIS IRON GRIP!” Okay, so it’s not spelled the same as Spider-Man’s arch-villain. Close enough.
2. “I FOUGHT THE COLOSSUS!” The same name, of course, as the X-Men’s resident strong guy.
3. I CREATED THE COLOSSUS. See above.
4. “I BROUGHT CYCLOPS BACK TO LIFE!” Don’t tell the moody guy on the X-Men’s team because he’ll just mope about how he’s not special anymore.
5. “LOOK! BEHIND US!! WE’RE DOOMED! IT’S DIABLO!!” This is the same name as the Fantastic Four villain who keeps secret weapons hidden in his moustache. No, really.
6. “UP FROM THE SLIMY DEPTHS COMES… GARGANTUS!” This was also the name of an early Iron Man villain who’s best left forgotten. Trust me, there’s a good reason why it’s very unlikely he’ll show up in a future Marvel movie.
7. ALSO: WHO WAS… “THE GARGOYLE”? Well, he was this old guy trapped in a demonic form who joined the Defenders near the end of the first title’s — oh, sorry, you were talking about someone else.
8. “RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!!! HERE COMES THE GOLIATH!” Not to be confused with the superhero or the super-villain who grow to giant size because what else would you expect from guys named Goliath, the power to sound like a whiny dog from a Christian claymation cartoon? “I don’t know, Daveeeey…”
9. “I CHALLENGED GROOT! THE MONSTER FROM PLANET X!” That may indeed be where he is from, but the real question is this: can he dance to the Jackson 5?
10. “I’VE DONE IT!! I’VE CREATED A LIVING HULK!” Probably not the best use of your MacArthur Grant money, perfessor.
11. “IT’S TRULL… THE INHUMAN!!” Not to be confused with Black Bolt the Inhuman, Medusa the Inhuman, Lockjaw the Inhuman, Bob the Inhuman… (c’mon, you know their city had at least one Bob living there).
12. WE DARE YOU TO OPEN THESE PAGES AND MEET… “IT”! Not to be confused with It the Living Colossus. Who’s not to be confused with the X-Men’s Colossus. or the Living Pharaoh, come to think. Hey, they gave us a She-Hulk, how come we never got a She-It? Just asking.
13. “I CAN’T ESCAPE! THERE IS NO ESCAPE FROM KRANG!” Well, not with that defeatist attitude, young fella. At least you’re not facing that power-hungry Atlantean warlord who’s always trying to usurp Namor’s throne. Hee, “usurp.” Such a funny word.
14. THIS IS… MAGNETO! Yep, the X-Men’s biggest baddie stole his name from a giant monster who used his awesome powers of magnetism to… lift humans up from the ground? How does that work?
15. “THE SANDMAN COMETH!” And this Sandman goeth to make room for one of Spider-Man’s biggest rogues.
16. BEWARE!! FOR TODAY “THE SCARECROW WALKS!!” And tomorrow this Scarecrow will sit down and let the straw-themed Iron Man villain take over.
17. “THE SCORPION STRIKES!” I know the stinger is the deal-closer here, but honestly I’d be more freaked out about the fact this giant scorpion can talk.
18. “THE THING” IS HERE! But only long enough to sit on the copyright until Mama Grimm’s favorite son shows up to help get this Marvel Age thing started.