Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Review - Amazing Fantasy Omnibus HC

This book collects all fifteen issues of the comic that eventually gave birth to Spider-Man. The first six issues of that comic were actually titled Amazing Adventures, and these issues contained strips that were mainly drawn by Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers and Steve Ditko, all written by Stan Lee, who also wrote a short prose story in each issue. With issue seven, the title became Amazing Adult Fantasy and these issues were produced entirely by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, who was apparently Lee’s favourite artist to work with (at that point, at least). Then, when sales on that title proved to be disappointing, partly because the ‘Adult’ part of the title was putting some readers off, the fifteenth and most famous issue of the series became Amazing Fantasy. Sales of that issue went through the roof, thanks to the debut appearance of everybody’s favourite wall-crawler, and Amazing Fantasy was cancelled and replaced with an ongoing Spider-Man title (which I believe did rather well).

I had wanted to read this book for a while, mainly because it contains lots of pre-Spider-Man Ditko art, but I had a feeling that the stories would be a bit of a struggle to get through. They weren’t at all, though. Most of them were utterly ridiculous but they were actually pretty enjoyable and very readable. The strips in the first six issues – especially the strips drawn by the team of Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers – were mainly about big monsters with stupid names like Sserpo, Torr, and (best of all) Monsteroso, but we also got to meet Doctor Droom, a character with an origin very similar to that of Doctor Strange, who eventually became known as Doctor Druid. Unlike Doctor Strange, Doctor Droom did not believe in the existence real magic and instead relied on hypnosis, meditation techniques and various other tricks to uncover alien plots, etc., which perhaps explains why he never became as popular as Doctor Strange.

The Lee / Ditko strips from Amazing Adult Fantasy are the best thing about this collection. Each of these strips is about three to five pages long and these sci-fi / fantasy stories make about as much sense as the stories in the preceding issues. The art, though, is great. I particularly liked the deceptively simple splash pages that started every strip – even the three page strips – before Ditko went on to render the rest of each story in more detail, often using a nine-panel grid.

The majority of these strips involve aliens, but we also encounter ghosts, the abominable snowman, lots of nagging wives, and even mutants. In AAF #14’s ‘The Man In The Sky’ we meet a young man called Tad Carter, who looks just like Peter Parker. Tad is a mutant with telekinetic powers, who is hated by his peers, and towards the end of this short strip he is mentally contacted by another mutant, an old man, who tells him that he is not alone, that mutants are ‘the next great stage in the development of man’, and invites him to wait with the other mutants until mankind is ready to embrace them. I’m sure I’ve heard of a concept a bit like this before, but I can’t for the life of me think where!

Amazing Fantasy #15 is reprinted here in its entirety, and while most of us will have read the 11-page Spider-Man story from that issue many, many times, the other Lee / Ditko strips from that issue have rarely – if ever – been reprinted and it was nice to see the entire comic for the first time. While the debut of Spider-Man may have marked a bit change of format for Amazing (Adult) Fantasy, the other three stories, also by Lee and Ditko, followed the usual AAF formula of Martians, ghosts and – err – mummies.

I really enjoyed reading this. The stories were dated but fun and the Ditko art, in particular, was stunning. As a snapshot of Marvel Comics in the days just before the super-heroes took over – and before the company became Marvel Comics – it was particularly interesting. I was kind of hoping that owning this book would stop me wanting that Steve Ditko Archives series, published by Fantagraphics, which reprints even earlier work by the artist, but now I am more tempted than ever.

This particular book has a recommended retail price of £55.99 / $75.00, which seems very expensive for a book that only collects fifteen comics, even if it is an oversized hardcover and even if these comics are all extremely rare. You can usually get this online for between £40 and £50 but, a couple of months ago, Forbidden Planet International had copies of the variant edition – the same book but with a painted cover by Dan Brereton – on sale for just £17.50 (plus £1.00 for P&P), which I thought was an incredible bargain, and that’s where I got my copy.


  1. My favourite is the one with the abominable snowman just because it ends with a crook dressed as the abominable snowman being dragged away by the real abominable snowman to be rogered senseless! This is a great book and I wish Marvel would publish more Omnibuses featuring Lee/Kirby/Ditko shorts from pre-Marvel from Tales od Suspence/Journey into Mystery/etc.

  2. I'm jealous, because FP had sold out by the time I tried to order my copy of this book. I have read the whole of #15 before though as it was reprinted in its entirety (including the original ads) back in the 90s along with a few other books from that era including Amazing Spider-Man #1 and FF #1.

  3. I was very surprised (and happy) when my copy turned up. I must have just got my order in before word got out.

  4. Growing up, I enjoyed reading those strange early sci-fi/horror tales from Marvel in their '70s reprint mags. 'When the Mummy Walks' and 'A Monster at My Window' (both originally from Tales to Astonish) stand out for me.

  5. I'm not sure whether Marvel's '70s reprint titles were ever widely available here in the UK - certainly not the ones shown at the back of this omnibus ('Monsters On The Prowl', 'Weird Wonder Tales', etc.) - but I'm sure Marvel UK will have reprinted at least some of these stories.