Stan Lee and Martin Goodman knew a good thing when they saw one. It had only been three or four years since the original Marvel Age stories had first appeared but so many people missed those early issues that the reprint books came into being. They must have sold like hotcakes because they started appearing more and more frequently. First came Marvel Tales #1 (1964) and #2 (1965), published as Annuals. Then came Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #1, 1965, released as a quarterly. But by the time MCIC #2, April 1966 came out, it was upped to a bimonthly schedule. When Marvel Tales converted to a bimonthly with issue #3 (July 1966), it ended up alternating with MCIC so that there was a reprint book appearing every month. (Not to mention the introduction of Fantasy Masterpieces showcasing the Atlas monster and Golden Age stories, and an upcoming Marvel Super-Heroes one shot.) Spidey moves over to Marvel Tales bimonthly when it makes the scene but, for now, MCIC is the only bimonthly reprint book and Spidey is in it.
There's no doubt that the intent was to reprint the various series in order from the very beginning but with the reprints jumping from one book to another (particularly when appearing in various Annuals) there was bound to be a certain amount of shuffling. This issue presents stories from three different features: the Fantastic Four, Ant-Man and Spider-Man. The first thirteen pages of Fantastic Four #1, November 1961, originally just called "The Fantastic Four" are reprinted in Fantastic Four Annual #1, 1963, under the title "The Origin of the Fantastic Four". The remaining Mole Man story, entitled "The Fantastic Four Meet the Moleman" is skipped and has not been reprinted at the time of this issue of MCIC. (And don't ask me when that story is first reprinted either. What do you think this is? An FF webpage? Aw, who am I kidding? Of course I know when that story is first reprinted. It appears in FF Special #7, November 1969.) MCIC #1 reprints FF #2, January 1962. This issue reprints FF #3, March 1962. Ant-Man actually begins as a Lee/Leiber/Kirby/Ayers non-super-hero short story in Tales to Astonish #27, January 1962 entitled "The Man in the Ant Hill". That story is not reprinted until MCIC #22, August 1969. Instead it is Ant-Man's first appearance as a super-hero from Tales to Astonish #35, September 1962 that appears in Marvel Tales Annual #1, 1964. His second super-hero story from TTA #36, October 1962 is reprinted in MCIC #1. The story from TTA #37, November 1962 is reprinted here. Finally, we all pretty much know the reprint history of the early Spideys by now, don't we? The origin from AF #15, August 1962 appears in MT Annual #1. The John Jameson space capsule story from ASM #1, March 1963 and the Terrible Tinkerer story from ASM #2, May 1963 are both reprinted in ASM Annual #2, 1965. The Doc Ock story from ASM #3, July 1963 appears in MCIC #1. This issue brings us the Sandman story from ASM #4, September 1963. The Doctor Doom story from ASM #5, October 1963 is also reprinted in ASM Annual #2 so when Spidey moves to Marvel Tales #3, July 1966, he debuts with the Lizard story from ASM #6, November 1963. And those missed Chameleon and Vulture stories from ASM #1 and #2 finally appear in ASM Special #7, December 1970. Now that we've mapped all that out, let's take a quick look at the stories in this issue and see how they stack up.
The cover for this issue continues the concept begun with MCIC #1 and reprints the covers of the original issues in reduced form. I always enjoyed this format but, I must admit, there's nothing in the FF or Astonish covers that would particularly entice you to buy this issue. (The Spidey/Sandman four-panel cover, on the other hand, is a classic.) FF #3 is noteworthy for the introduction of the Fantasti-car and the FF's costumes and this is what Stan chose to emphasize on the cover. The truth is, though, that a shot of the FF hanging out in a flying bathtub is not much to look at. A much better, rejected Kirby cover is reprinted on the back cover of The Official Marvel Index to the Fantastic Four #1, December 1985 though it may have been a bit too reminiscent of the cover of FF #1 to be usable. (And while I'm on the subject, there is a cool alternate cover for FF Annual #1, 1963 featuring Spider-Man on the back cover of The Official Marvel Index to the Fantastic Four #2, January 1986. Worth checking out.) Because there are only three covers to reprint (as opposed to four last time) there is plenty of room for all sorts of hype such as "Great 2nd Ish!" and "Each movie-length collectors' classic is guaranteed to be... Complete! Unabridged! As Thrilling as the day it first appeared!" and "Comicdom's greatest 25 cent value!" Each issue is briefly touted on the cover as well. The blurb for Spidey's tale says, "The incredible issue which made all of fandom realize that nobody could create abominable arch-villains like Mighty Marvel!" The inside front cover has a contents page with revamped illustrations from the stories done in greytone. (Of course, the stories are listed out of sequence and Ant-Man's story entitled "Trapped by the Protector" is listed as "The Unknown Protector!" but you can't have everything.) Stan also takes the opportunity here to explain something we've already discussed: that "Even before it had been on sale for two weeks, we knew that Marvel Collectors' Item Classics was the sell-out of the month! In answer to your phone calls, letters, and telegrams, we've had to schedule it for Bi-Monthly publication, instead of every three months as originally planned!" He also implies that the third issue will have a different line-up of features and he's right.
Okay. Now to the stories. The issue leads off with "The Menace of the Miracle Man" starring the Fantastic Four and, let's face it, this story has always been somewhat of a disappointment. The Miracle Man appears to be able to change his size, control lightning, split wood with one finger, shrug off a punch from the Thing, and bring a huge movie monster statue to life but the truth is that he's just a really good hypnotist. After all the trouble he causes, the Miracle Man is defeated when he is temporarily blinded by a flash of the Human Torch's flame that destroys his hypnotic abilities. The story is salvaged from mediocrity by the "cut-away diagram" of FF headquarters, by the Thing rejecting most of his new costume (calling it a "monkey suit" and tearing it right off his body) and by the Torch's declaration that he's "cuttin' out of this combo right now" and quitting the group. (Which leads to his discovery of the Sub-Mariner in the flop house in FF #4, May 1962.) Even so, it deserves no higher rating than three webs.
The Ant-Man stories in Tales to Astonish never were much good. This one is no exception. Ant-Man learns from his ants that a jeweler named Gerald Marsh has been roughed up. He goes to investigate and Marsh tells him he was beaten up by a huge super-powerful costumed figure called the Protector because he refused to pay protection money. The Protector also has a disintegrating ray gun that he uses to turn the jeweler's diamonds into dust. Ant-Man ends up tracking the Protector to a shakedown in another jewelry store but is defeated when the Protector grabs a kid's water pistol and sprays the sidewalk. (I kid you not.) Ant-Man gets caught in the water and is almost sucked into the sewer but a nearby lollipop stick saves him from going through the grate. Hank Pym then, believe it or not, rents a jewelry store to attract his foe. The Protector arrives and uses his great strength to throw things around, then uses his disintegrator to turn the merchandise to dust. But Pym has sicced his ants on the Protector and they follow him to his hideout. When Ant-Man arrives, the Protector sucks him into a vacuum cleaner but since he has normal strength at ant-size he has no trouble punching his way out of the bag. He wins the battle by using a fan to blow the vacuum cleaner dust in the Protector's face. The police arrive and strip off the Protector's costume, only to discover that he is secretly Gerald Marsh (no surprise) wearing "platform shoes and mechanically controlled rods and springs to perform his feats of strength". Not only that but his gun doesn't really disintegrate jewels at all. Instead it causes a "puff of dense smoke" and "under cover of that smoke he stole the gems himself and dropped some grains of sand in their place". Uh... okay. The story ends with the penultimate panel on the page. In the original, the final panel features an ad for "all the amazing super heroes which everyone is talking about" namely "The Mighty Thor appearing in Journey into Mystery, the Human Torch appearing in Strange Tales and of course The Fantastic Four and The Incredible Hulk, America's greatest fantasy characters" but no Spidey who was still in limbo after AF #15, August 1962 and before ASM #1, March 1963. With this ad rather dated, the reprint replaces it with an ad for Fantasy Masterpieces #1, February 1966 calling on the reader to "see the early work of Kirby, Ditko, Heck, Ayers and Sinnott! Prefaces by Stan Lee!" And as for the story itself, while I do get a kick out of Ant-Man being washed toward the sewer with a water gun and temporarily trapped in a vacuum cleaner, there isn't much to it and the identity of the Protector is predictable. Let's call this one, two webs.
Ant-Man isn't the only character in this issue who gets trapped in a vacuum cleaner. It happens to the Sandman as well when he is finally caught by Spider-Man. You can read all the details of this story in the Lookback for ASM #4, September 1963. So, the real question is whether the story is complete and unabridged as guaranteed on the front cover. And, yes, all the words are left the same including the reference to Peter as "Mr. Bookworm of 1963" on page twenty, not counting the addition of "originally presented in Spider-Man no. 4" on the bottom of the splash page. And, yes, all the art has been left the same. Except, just as in MCIC #1 all of the coloring has been changed around. I suppose it's something as simple as not being able to reproduce the original coloring and just getting one of the colorists to do it all over again. It's not as if the new coloring is at all inferior to the original. But if you put the two stories side-by-side, it is a little disconcerting. Still, it doesn't affect the web rating which is the same as it was for the original issue: four webs.
By MCIC #3, June 1966, both Spider-Man and Ant-Man are gone; joining Thor and the Human Torch in Marvel Tales #3, July 1966. They are replaced by Iron Man (in his second appearance from Tales of Suspense #40, April 1963, his first appearance having been reprinted in Marvel Tales Annual #1), Dr. Strange (in his first appearance from Strange Tales #110, July 1963, Tales of the Watcher (in its first appearance from Tales of Suspense #49, January 1964) and the Incredible Hulk which is such a mess it is worthy of mention.
The Hulk reprints are clearly the victim of space limitations, usually only allotted about ten pages each issue. This works fine when the short tales are reprinted; not so fine with the full-length stories. The Hulk's reprint history begins in Marvel Tales Annual #1 which reprints his six page origin from The Incredible Hulk #1, May 1962 but leaves off the rest of the issue. The Hulk returns in Marvel Tales Annual #2, 1965 with "The Ringmaster", the ten page third story from The Incredible Hulk #3, September 1962. When his series is included in MCIC #3, the story presented is "Banished to Outer Space", the eleven page first tale from Hulk #3. MCIC # 4-7, August 1966-February 1967, reprint the four shorter tales from The Incredible Hulk #4-5, November 1962-January 1963. Now left with nothing but full-length tales, the features get carved up. Hulk's battle with the Toad Men from The Incredible Hulk #2, July 1962 is reprinted in three parts in MCIC #8-10, April-August 1967, and his fight with the Metal Master in The Incredible Hulk #6, March 1963 is similarly divided up in MCIC # 11-13, October 1967-February 1968. It is only then that, as Stan tells it (in MCIC #14, April 1968), "for a frantic fearful moment we thought we were cleaned out of halcyon Hulk tales to reprint! But then somebody remembered that we had never retold what happened to ol' Greenskin just after his awesome origin!" So the rest of Hulk #1 is reprinted in MCIC #14-16, April-August 1968. This leaves only the three page second story from Hulk #3, a recap of "The Origin of the Hulk!" which is finally reprinted leading off The Incredible Hulk Special #2, October 1969. So much for the circuitous route of reprinting the original six-issue series of the Incredible Hulk. All of which has nothing to do with Spider-Man of course but I thought you might like to know.
There's something pretty cool about these old 25-cent double-size issues that reprint stories from several different series but this time the FF and Ant-Man tales drag the Spidey adventure down. While the Sandman story still gets four webs, the whole book averages out to a three. But it's still a pretty great package.
Back to Spidey, as the Looter strikes! ASM #36 next.