"Pure Imagination" is a one-man publishing company, founded in 1975 by Greg Theakston. The first twenty or so years of the company's history saw a sporadic, eclectic mix of sexually suggestive magazines, bits of action and horror, and the occasional fanzine.
More recently, Pure Imagination has specialised in cataloguing, printing (or re-printing) the various works of Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Al Williamson, Wallace Wood, Basil Wolverton and others.
This is the second issue of this "history of comics" title Pure Images (Vol. 3). The opening issue Pure Images (Vol. 3) #1 provided an interesting and well-researched dig into "The Birth of Spider-Man". This time around, it's "The Birth of Marvel Comics".
Greg opens the issue with an editorial which suggests that the 1990's are going to be a decade of cultural explosion, based on a theory that the 1930's and the 1960's were both spectacularly creative, and hence clear a 30-year cycle has been established. We'll just quietly note the danger of prognosticating recurring cultural cycles based on a single previous time interval, and move on without attempting to argue if the 1990's was a superior decade in popular culture, or no.
After that, we're right into the main article. After a quick sketch of Martin Goodman's origin in publishing, Theakston begins his chronicle proper of Marvel with the October 1939 "Marvel Comics" featuring The Human Torch, The Angel, Submariner, and Masked Raider. We're introduced to Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, and what follows is a carefully annotated walk-through of the key titles and episodes of early "Marvel"... or more specifically, of "Timely" and then "Atlas" as the company was called back in those days.
The entire article is 30 pages long, although well over half is illustrations (all in black and white). It covers the early days, culminating in the low-point in 1956 where Stan pretty much fired all of the creative team. After that, there's the five years of "survival mode", until the critical moment in 1961 where Jack and Stan's Fantastic Four (Vol. 1) #1 signals the spectacular dawn of a new Marvel Comics.
Hulk #1 follows, and other similar early milestones in the new era, into the article concludes with a much-abbreviated recap of the origins of Amazing Fantasy #15 (as detailed much more carefully in the previous issue of this title).
The issue also includes an 8-page glossy color-printed "Powerhouse" story. It's utterly mediocre. We won't talk about it. The only interest for us is the article about Marvel's early days.
As a historian, Theakston is perfectly adequate – if perhaps a little dry in his writing style. His eye for detail is superb, and his "thanks" list includes all the right people – among them are Joe Simon, John Romita, Julius Schwartz, and Jack Kirby. His description of that period comes across as well-sourced and convincing.
The issue closes with a note: "Look for the conclusion of the Marvel story later this year."
However, Pure Images (Vol. 3) only ran to five issues. #3 featured Monsters, #4 the Warren Report, #5 Ren & Stimpy. So it seems that Greg never got around to publishing that second part of the Marvel history.
If you are interested in the history of Spider-Man and of Marvel Comics, then you should probably have this comic sitting among your bookshelf. It's only small in terms of page count, but I likely suspect there are some details here that aren't widely mentioned elsewhere.
Sure, this isn't a pretty comic book – and it suffers hugely from being half serious historical work, and half ego-driven self-published B-Grade Superhero comic.
Even so, it has to be worth Four Webs.