Fifty years after the fact, it seems a little strange to me that my first exposure to the Inhumans — one of the most memorable creations of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to appear in the latter half of the 1960s — didn’t come by way of Fantastic Four, or from any other Marvel title drawn by Jack Kirby, but rather from an issue of Amazing Spider-Man, as illustrated by John Romita and Don Heck. But, hey, at least it was written by Stan, right?
#42 also happened to be the first issue of Spider-Man I’d bought that wasn’t part of a continued story — not that that got in the way of Lee and Romita beginning their tale with action:
Yeah, why waste a second? Onward to page two — and our first look at Spidey’s adversary for this issue:
Wow! That’s a heck of an entrance (and exit).
As already mentioned, I’d never seen Medusa, or any of her fellow Inhumans, prior to picking up this comic book — and Lee’s script, as the story progressed, wouldn’t give me much more background information on either her in particular, or them in general, than that which appears in the four panels above. That was OK, really, as far as this particular story went — I didn’t actually need to know more than that to comprehend Medusa’s basic nature and motivations. But I was curious, all the same.
I actually got a bit more information from that month’s “Marvel Bullpen Bulletins” column*, which let me know that Medusa was also appearing that month as the lead feature in Marvel Super-Heroes #15 (drawn by Gene Colan, whose work I was familiar with from Daredevil). I don’t recall if I ever actually saw that comic on the spinner rack, though I well remember perusing its cover via Marvel’s house ads, and noting with interest that the Lady of the Living Locks was wearing a different costume there than the one in Spider-Man**. Neither the Bullpen Bulletins nor the ads gave me any further hard intel about Medusa, of course, but just the fact that she was headlining a book with “super-heroes” in the title clued me in that she was something more than simply a “villain of the month” for Spidey to tussle with.
Still, it would be months before I learned much more about the Inhumans and where they came from — and years before I’d learn how they’d come to be created by Lee and Kirby in the first place. According to a number of sources, Marvel’s publisher Martin Goodman had hopes of expanding his comics line back in 1965, and asked editor Stan Lee to come up with a slew of new characters that could headline their own titles; Lee, of course, turned to Kirby. Those expansion plans didn’t come to fruition that year, but the character ideas that Kirby and Lee developed at that time — including the Black Panther as well as the Inhumans — wouldn’t go to waste, and were, instead, worked into storylines in Marvel’s flagship Fantastic Four title.
The Inhumans, as a full fledged group of characters — the Royal Family of Attilan, leaders of a hidden race of superhumans — made their proper debut in FF #45 — but Medusa had first appeared some nine issues earlier, in #36. Introduced as the mysterious “Madame Medusa”, she was originally a villain — a member of the Fantastic Four’s “opposite numbers”, the Frightful Four — and it’s fair to assume that she was retrofitted into the Inhumans as Lee and Kirby built out that concept.
Beginning with their appearance in issue #45, the Inhumans would become ongoing supporting players in the Fantastic Four series, appearing in almost every issue through #62. After that, they moved into Thor, taking over the back-up slot previously held by the “Tales of Asgard” feature. (No, it doesn’t seem a terribly logical move to suddenly start featuring the characters in the Thunder God’s title, where they’d never appeared before — but I suppose that since Thor was another Lee & Kirby book, it may have made sense to Marvel just on that score.) The new feature fleshed out the origins of the Inhuman race, explaining that they were the result of genetic tampering on human beings conducted millennia ago by an alien race, the Kree — who happened to be yet another new creation that Kirby and Lee had recently introduced in the pages of Fantastic Four. The series ran in Thor‘s back pages from issue #146 to #152, ending barely one month prior to Marvel Super-Heroes #15, Amazing Spider-Man #42, and Sub-Mariner #2 all hitting the stands.
During those months, Martin Goodman had, in fact, finally expanded Marvel’s line. A new Inhumans-themed title — first conceived as featuring the whole group, and then as focusing just on Medusa — was at some point intended to be a part of that initiative. For whatever reason, however, Goodman changed his mind, and only a “pilot” issue was published, as MS-H #15. And along with it came Medusa’s appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #42 — perhaps intended by Stan Lee to help promote the MS-H one-shot, but perhaps whipped up just because he already had Medusa on his mind. This late in the game, who can say?
But getting back to that particular book, which is, after all, the purported topic of today’s blog post… After taking her (rather imperious) leave of Spidey, Medusa abruptly sets down in the street amid a crowd of ordinary New Yorkers. Her advent causes momentary panic, and it looks like things will go south quickly when a small boy starts to run away — but before the frightened tyke can be lost in the crowd, or worse…
In his very entertaining book Lee and Kirby: The Wonder Years (aka The Jack Kirby Collector #58), the late Fantastic Four fan and historian Mark Alexander lamented that Medusa, originally “the most intoxicating femme fatale that Lee and Kirby ever came up with”, lost much of her erotic charge after she abandoned super-villainy and was folded into the Inhumans mythos, ultimately becoming “as carnal as cornflakes”. Looking back at some of Jack Kirby’s art in those early, Frightful Four days, I can sort of see his point. But — on the other hand — I also find that I have to agree with the guy in the Spider-Man panel above who opines that if this woman isn’t human, he doesn’t wanna be human, either. For my money, John Romita’s Medusa has most assuredly Got It Going On.
Amidst the hubbub sparked by her sudden public appearance, Medusa is offered the opportunity to become the face (and hair) of a beauty product’s new ad campaign, as the “Heavenly Hair Spray Girl!” The regal Inhuman isn’t interested in the money, naturally, but thinks that working for humans could provide her with a good opportunity to study them, so she agrees.
After this, the scene shifts back to Spider-Man — it is his book, after all, and even if this is a relatively rare done-in-one story, there are subplots that need to keep moving forward. As you may recall from our earlier post about issue #61, Spidey — in his civilian identity of Peter Parker — is currently on the outs with his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, after his role in exposing the role of Gwen’s then-brainwashed father in a criminal scheme of the Kingpin’s:
Things don’t go so well with Peter’s attempts to justify his actions, and he leaves the Stacys’ house still persona non grata with Gwen. Peter seems to think that there’s no way he can redeem himself to Gwen without revealing that he’s secretly Spider-Man. Re-reading these stories today, I’m not so sure his reasoning holds up, but I’m quite certain that, in 1968, my ten-year-old self bought it with no questions asked. What did I know about talking to teenage girls, after all?
We next check in with Norman Osborn — formerly the Green Goblin — whose amnesia concerning his time as that super-villain is slowly beginning to shred, as we see when he rebuffs a solicitous overture from his friend, Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson:
It’s pretty obvious where this is going, right? It was probably pretty obvious to my ten-year-old self, as well — but since I had never seen the Green Goblin except in these flashbacks, and since the “reformed” Norman Osborn came across as sympathetic in every scene I’d thus far seen him in, this was absolutely riveting stuff.
Meanwhile, at the Madison Avenue offices of beauty products magnate Montgomery G. Bliss, Medusa’s debut modeling session as the Heavenly Hair Spray Girl has run into a snarl (sorry) or two:
Medusa stalks out of the photo shoot, never to return — but all is not yet lost. Or so Bliss thinks, anyway, when he looks out the window and sees Spider-Man swinging by. Spidey is on the lookout for some criminals to tussle with (probably to work out his frustrations over the situation with Gwen), but has thus far been unsuccessful — and then…
Spider-Man can’t figure out why Medusa would suddenly go on a rampage in some guy’s office, but he has no reason to suspect that Bliss is lying to him, and so he swings off in pursuit of the scarlet-tressed Inhuman.
Bliss, predictably, is thrilled. He sends a squad of cameramen up to the roof to document the battle, figuring he’ll get all sorts of free publicity via the late edition newspapers as well as the evening news. “History will record this as hair spray’s finest hour!” he gloats to his flunky, Wilberforce.
Spidey is actually a little hesitant about mixing it up with Medusa; after all, he’s never fought a female before. Of course, there’s always a first time:
(Nice casually sexist joke there, Pete.)
The battle rages back and forth across the Manhattan rooftops for several pages — until, at last…
Once the two super-humans stop fighting and start talking, Spidey quickly figures out what’s really going on. He explains things to Medusa, trying to mollify her — but the Mistress of the Living Locks has had it up to here with human beings, at least for now:
It’s an “all’s well that ends well” scenario (assuming your name isn’t Montgomery G. Bliss) — though, of course, there’s one final scene to remind us that we are reading Amazing Spider-Man, after all:
I’d like to tell you that everything works out in the end for all three of those crazy kids — Peter, Gwen, and Mary Jane — but if you have even a modest amount of familiarity with the last half century of Spider-Man continuity, you’ll know that’s hardly the case. But hey, that’s life for you — and comic books.
So, whither Medusa from here — not to mention her fellow Inhumans? Well, neither she, as a solo hero, nor the Inhumans, as a group, would get their own series in 1968. Nor would they in 1969. But, come the summer of 1970, Marvel readers would at last be treated to this house ad:
It wasn’t quite their own title — that would have to wait until the Seventies — but half of a split book was still better than a five-page back-up feature in Thor.
What was more, the new series would be scripted as well as drawn by Jack Kirby — one of the few occasions during his long Silver Age stint at Marvel that this great storyteller would be credited as a writer for his contributions, not merely an artist or “producer”.
And it would also be one of the last — since not long after the above ad appeared in Marvel’s books, ads like this one began to appear in their Distinguished Competition’s:
But that’s a post for another day, about a couple of years from now. Stay tuned!
*The Bullpen Bulletins for that month — or, to be more precise, “The Mighty Marvel Checklist” — also touted the appearance of Triton in Sub-Mariner #2 — but since it didn’t mention the fact that he was an Inhuman, I didn’t make the connection. If I had, I might have sampled Subby’s book then, and met the whole Royal Family (courtesy of Roy Thomas and John Buscema) months earlier than I ended up doing. But, alas, ’twas not to be.
**Years later, in his introduction to Marvel Masterworks – The Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 7, John Romita would note “sheepishly” (his word) that the brand-new costume he designed for Medusa was never used again. Truth to tell, however, I don’t recall ever seeing Colan’s costume again, either — at least, not with that white-and-purple color scheme.