Man-Thing is getting a lot more attention than ever, mostly thanks to his appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe TV special. night werewolf. This has seen many Marvel fans focus more on the horror side of the business, which includes characters such as Blade, Morbius, Ghost Rider, and arguably even Moon Knight. Before these creepy creatures terrorized the Marvel Universe, an entirely different breed of monsters were unleashed by the publisher now known as Marvel.
Just before the start of the Silver Age at Marvel with the introduction of the Fantastic Four, Marvel output was dominated by gigantic, monstrous beasts. Obviously, to circumvent the real-world creative terror of the Comic Book Code, these pre-superhero creations still have a lot of potential. Here’s how the monsters of Atlas Comics once held back what would become Marvel – and how they can possibly do it again.
Classic Marvel Comics Monsters Reflect Changes In Horror Movies
As mentioned, many of the monsters in the pages of Atlas Comics (Marvel Comics’ predecessor) were somewhat of a response to the Comics Code Authority. This regulator reduced many of the horror and supernatural concepts that were popular in Golden Age comics, such as ghouls, ghosts, vampires, and werewolves. So, with the goal of publishing somewhat similar works again, Atlas looked at the changing trends in horror and monster movies and followed suit.
By the 1950s, the features of the creatures had passed the era of Victorian Gothic horror. Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and The Wolfman were by now old hat, with their brand of scares resembling mere parlor tricks in a world where the real horror of atomic and nuclear energy has become an ever-present threat. Now movies like Godzilla and similar monster movies eschewed the paranormal supernatural. In their place, stories based on science fiction; namely the idea of radiation gone wrong to create horrible monstrosities.
This lack of anything macabre or demonic would appease the Comic Book Code, allowing Atlas to publish “horror” comics in this new Atomic Age vein. These books kept the lights on at Atlas Comics, with creators such as Stan Lee and Jack Kirby further honing their styles on the titles. While they may have seemed corny or silly compared to the supposedly “heartbreaking” content of earlier Golden Age titles, these books were treated with respect and passion by those who worked on them. Today somewhat forgotten, this era would still manage to give birth to several characters now classic in the annals of Marvel Comics.
Marvel’s Golden Age Monsters Spawned Original Hulk and Groot
One of the most “iconic” characters of these giant monsters was the evil Xemnu, who was created by Jack Kirby and debuted in Journey into mystery #62. While the name might not be familiar to some, his other moniker – Hulk – most certainly is. Long before Dr. Banner was girded with gamma rays, a very different and very evil Hulk exhibited his own incredible powers. A gigantic alien with psychic abilities, Xemnu sought to enslave the people of Earth, only the quick thinking of ordinary citizens stopping his plans.
Tales to Astonish #13 would also feature the original version of Groot, which was very different from the last Guardian of the Galaxy. A sort of arboreal alien emissary, this Groot was quite erudite, even endowed with a large vocabulary. Absorbing plant life in its growing mass, he sought to raise an entire city on Earth to bring back to Planet X and study it. Luckily, a human scientist used a specialized type of termite to take down Groot with all his might. Perhaps the biggest of these behemoths to return to the line was the gigantic dragon Fin Fang Foom, Iron Man being a frequent foe of his.
The most notable features of these stories weren’t the monsters themselves, but rather the human element. The human heroes were largely either ordinary Joes or those who had been harmed by society, with the scientist who defeats Groot having previously been seen as a coward. There were certainly nuances of Marvel Comics’ future mascot Spider-Man, who is beloved for being a nerdy underdog in both identities. The Last Hulk also belonged to the category of atomic monsters, becoming a despised monster due to a scientific accident. So, much like their superhero successors, it was Stan Lee’s humanizing writing and Jack Kirby’s dynamic artwork that made Marvel’s “Goliathons” such a hit.
1970s Marvel Monsters Mirror Horror Movies Again
Marvel Monsters would become a hit again in the 1970s, but the likes of Mechano, Moomba, and Skrreal weren’t among them. These Marvel Monsters were part of a magazine, allowing the publisher to escape the watchful eye of the Comics Code. Thus, the book and those under its imprint were once again able to feature demons, vampires, and werewolves. This era would transform Morbius from a non-supernatural scientist “living vampire” and enemy of Spider-Man into an anti-hero protagonist. Likewise, the return of the Bloodsuckers to the Marvel Universe brought about the introduction of the now-iconic blade, the Vampire Hunter. Other creatures of the night included the Night Werewolf and N’Kantu, the Living Mummy.
Man-Thing was similar to a pre-existing character named Heap, as well as a DC Comics creature named Swamp Thing. Even the fiery Ghost Rider, who existed in the superhero realm, was a far more evil individual than Spidey and Iron Man. That many of these characters filled the archetypical roles of classic Universal Movie monsters was no coincidence. Horror films had returned to their gothic roots, with films from studios such as Hammer giving a new generation bloodier, more gruesome and sexier versions of creatures such as Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster.
Giant atomic mutations with silly names were out of fashion, with their cinematic predecessors once again taking to the big screen. Since then, these types of concepts would remain ubiquitous in horror movies, with giant monsters beyond King Kong and Godzilla being rarities. So it was, too, for Marvel’s pre-superhero monsters, which were rarely consistently hit again.
Marvel’s attempt to revitalize monsters in modern times
An attempt to do something with them was the 2017 Raging Monsters event, which brought back many classic creatures, now called Golitathons. The story involved various Marvel superheroes battling these beasts, with an Inhuman summoning monsters being the key to stopping an invasion. Unfortunately, the storyline received a fairly lukewarm reception, with the classic monsters having since been removed. Creatures need their own space to thrive, with superheroes simply limiting their style. The same goes for the more supernatural elements, which just don’t match most of those original monsters.
Goliathons work best as sort of bogeymen for moral stories of science and ambition, their top counters not being superheroes, but ordinary individuals. Now that slashers and vampires are once again dominating the screen, this supernatural and macabre direction is also where Marvel Comics is heading. Nonetheless, the company wouldn’t be here without the success of its sci-fi monsters, with gigantic threats from parts unknown being Marvel’s true “first family.”