Sunday, January 15, 2012

Satanic Torture in the Secret History of Marvel Comics

Last week, we announced that my upcoming collaboration with Dr. Michael Vassallo, The Secret History of Marvel Comics: Jack Kirby and the Moonlighting Artists at Martin Goodman’s Empire, has expanded from 168 to 300 pages. This is to accommodate the tons of imagery by the top artists at Marvel of the 1940s and 1950s that we continue to uncover since we announced the book last November (still on track to debut in July at the San Diego Comicon).

What is even more intriguing, however, is the content of some of that imagery. Remember those quaint comic-book covers from the 1940s that featured light “bondage” with women tied up by a villain as the hero rushed in to save her? Well, apparently, as an artist finished the latest issue of, say, Captain America, they then took their pens to something a wee bit more extreme.

Below is a handful of illustrations from just one issue of a Martin Goodman pulp, Mystery Tales, from 1940. (Another connection to the Marvel Comics of the 1950s – Mystery Tales was a comic book that had a 1956 issue featured on the TV show, Lost; an issue that featured Steve Ditko’s second story for Marvel.)

These make even those 1960s Eric Stanton/Steve Ditko bondage (and temperate sexual sadomasochism) collaborations look like children’s books. The material below is not representative of all the imagery in our book, by any means, but it is a sub-genre that can’t be ignored because it’s not just limited to one issue or one famous Marvel artist.

Remember Stanley Kubrick’s last film, 1999’s Eyes Wide Shut, and that scene with Tom Cruise entering the mansion where all that open sexual intercourse is being played out amongst the upper crust of Manhattan? Below, that “Yield, Lovely Maidens, to the Blood-Master” double-splash page makes Kubrick look like Garry Marshall! Scantily clad women forced to jump off a raised, fiery platform, destined to be impaled by large spikes laid out in front of tables of laughing rich guys? “Get behind me, Satan!” indeed.

We posted these images (click to enlarge) because, as happened sometimes in those days, they are unsigned and Michael Vassallo, our art expert, is leaning towards Jack Binder. Binder was the creator of the original Daredevil character (the non-Marvel version), and older brother of comic-book writer, Otto Binder. Please use the Comments section below to weigh in with your opinions.

There are other images in the book not featured here by famous Marvel artists that display women being whipped, scars visible all over their bodies, an inch away from death by demons and zombie-like figures in human form; the extremes between the innocence of the Golden Age of Comics and this wing of Martin Goodman’s empire makes you understand why we called this book, The Secret History of Marvel Comics...


  1. Ack! My delicate eyes!! I'm less than leaning towards Binder, Blake. He was a suggestion because there are signed Binder illustrations all around these issues on less graphic material. I considered perhaps the artists purposely didn't want to sign these. So Binder was just a first consideration and upon going over them with some great art spotters Like Jim V. Jr., no real answer has been found. Yet.

    1. "Less than leaning"? Don't y'all wish we shot the production of this book for a reality tv show? Me as "The Hyperbolist" and Michael as "The Literalist"! Ditko's Mr. A would say "you are either leaning, or you are on the ground in the black! There is no gray!"

  2. After spending so much time with those searing images, I had to take a break and play with wholesome comics:

  3. I would not agree with Binder, his style always seemed a bit more "flat" to me and these all have some flourish to them, more feathering in the hair, almost like Kinstler (not saying it is him, just has a bit of that selfsame style)

  4. I agree, Brett. So they are currently unidentified.

  5. I don't think these are all by the same artist. And call me crazy, but the 3/4 rear shot of the fellow in the bottom right corner of "Where Hell Hallows its Harpies" sure looks like Kirby had a hand in it The hair, the collar, the lines and construction of the face, the folds/shadow on the shoulder -- all ring the Kirby bell for me. The rest of the piece not so much -- but that ONE guy....

  6. Flagrant Self-Promoter? Who has a blog with his own name in the title?? "Blake Bell News", indeed!

  7. Terry, you are correct, there aren't all the same artist. I see what you are saying but don't think Kirby had any hand in this. Just a stylistic accident, I believe.

  8. Any idea who wrote the stories? Those bylines don't sound real to me.

  9. Hi Danny,

    No, I don't know who wrote many of them. I'd guess "some" of the pulp bylines were real names. Others were obviously made up. Over in the Red Circle sci-fi pulps you see real names like Henry Kuttner & Jack Williamson. In Marvel Tales Vol 1, #6 (Dec/39) you see a Ray King who is in reality Ray Cummings. Then in Vol 2, #2 and Vol 2, #3 he's there under his own name in another story.