The Church of Stan & Jack
or "The Bible and Brotherhood, Marvel-Style"
by and © Jerry Boyd
Kirby Collector #26
In the last few hours of his life, Adolph Hitler's uncanny political acumen
returned to him as he composed his last political testament. He accurately predicted
the emergence of "the stronger eastern power (Russia) and England's
heir (America)" as the states that would inherit the future. This future
would include the discovery and uses of atomic power, ushering in an age the
mad fuhrer could not envision. With the Atomic Age as a part of life, all states,
large and small, wisely decided to retreat (somewhat) from saber-rattling, and
readdress the problems that had brought on WWII (and other wars); a lack of
In this story from Menace #3, Stan's s blurb labels bigotry as a sin.
™ & © Marvel Characters, Inc.
Real brotherhood could, of course, never happen but the attempts had to be
made. The Holy Bible's last book, Revelation, talks of the conditions that
will surround the end of man's time on Earth. "Wars... and rumors
of war" will be part of it. The savior, Jesus Christ, knew this years before
when He said this to His disciples. Yet He still demanded, "Thou shalt
love thy neighbor as thyself." (Matthew 23:39)
It's easy for many people to honor their mothers and fathers, to not steal
or kill, to acknowledge God as the only god, etc. Loving one another as God
wants us to is the tough one. Ethnic, religious, racial, and cultural divisions
remain a gulf not easy to transcend (and understandably so) for millions. Want
proof? Just look around you.
In the relative comfort of the Eisenhower years, EC comics made some of the
first (and best) stabs at man's intolerance this side of the Iron Curtain.
They were published within the pages of Shock Suspenstories, an anthology title
which concentrated on criminal doings. The stories stunned their readers. Some
said they recognized a little of themselves in the bigots the great Wally Wood
illustrated while (thankfully) only a few others angrily denounced the whole
proceedings and the staff who produced them. Jack Kirby was putting together
Fighting American and other books during the early '50s but Stan Lee, over
at Atlas, apparently had his eye on this "new trend" in social relevance.
In Menace #3, Stan, with art by John Romita, Sr., did a take on hooded bigotry.
In a story called "Men in Black," the main character, Jim Horton,
angrily decries the number of foreigners coming to America and taking jobs from
"real Americans." Typical of Lee villains, Horton's bad qualities
are repellent to even his friends and spouse. In short order, Jim organizes
some similarly disgruntled men into a black-hooded group bent on violent disapproval
of foreigners. After beating one man up, they disperse to avoid a police pursuit.
Horton returns to his ramshackle home to remove his disguise only to find out
hood after hood shows up to frustrate his efforts. (Symbolically, his bigotry
cannot be removed.) When the police finally arrive, they stare down at Horton's
bloodstained face. One officer mentions that one hood is laying on the floor.
(Well, Horton was sick, right?) It's an interesting yarn, not as good as
the EC stuff, but the type of thing Rod Serling would make a trademark of in
his later anthology TV series The Twilight Zone. EC shut down sometime later,
but their themes of brotherly tolerance, man's inhumanity, and being one's
own worst enemy found their way into some of Stan's writing for the Atlas
titles. A lot of them weren't bad at all, either.
By the end of the '50s, Jack and Stan's scientist-heroes in the monster
books would be like philosophical Frankensteins fortunately released from their
living nightmares. Their monstrous creations or alien adversaries having been
defeated, these forerunners of Reed Richards, Tony Stark, etc. could sometimes
be found under a starry sky delivering summations like "Mankind doesn't
realize how close it came to utter destruction" or "Never again will
I attempt to meddle in things man wasn't meant to...", etc. You can
almost hear the mad _doctors of Hollywood's classic sci-fi/horror films
as you read them.
Sometimes the simplest things confounded or destroyed Kirby's creatures
(similar to H.G. Wells' ending in War of the Worlds in which God in His
wisdom thwarted the Martian invasion with a germ-filled environment they could
not long survive).
The Comics Code expressly forbade any ridicule or attack on any religious group,
and though Jack and Stan did nothing that could be interpreted as such, they
probably felt it'd be easier to let "circumstances" win the day
rather than offend or alienate any readers who might _differ with their notions
Interestingly, Spragg, Pildorr, Groot, It, Googam, X, and others were physically
larger than the humans they sought to subjugate, but like David and Goliath,
the smaller, David-like hero, always won.
The Marvel Age
Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man, Thor, and Ant-Man had less humility than their Atlas
counterparts. They were doctors/scientific marvels wrapped into one and put
their faith in their own inventions, powers, and weaponry. However, it was their
good deeds and selfless heroism that placed them in the company of angels and
distinguished them from their enemies: Doctor Doom, the Mandarin, Egg-Head,
the Wizard, the Radioactive Man, etc. (also scientists with super-abilities).
With even more powerful characters on the loose in the Marvel Universe (such
as Zeus, Dormammu, Odin, and Galactus) some order had to be made in the pecking
order the Bullpen had created. In a highly-praised incident, the Watcher puts
Jesus Christ at the top of the list of all-powerfuls in FF #72 (and he should
know!). Though the Messiah isn't named (probably to avoid an exodus by
some readers), it's pretty clear from Stan's dialogue as to Whom the
It's in Thor, though, where most of the team's religious leanings
seem to show up. The Thunder God, Odin's heaven-sent son, is sent to Earth
to be its protector, to "smite the evildoer" as Thor said once. Christ
came to overcome sin, also. He converted sinners, empowered the righteous, healed,
and preached. Like the Prince of Peace, Thor seems to be above sinful impulses.
But the thunderer is a warrior-god, needing battle as much as a Christian needs
prayer. Jesus performed His miracles humbly, asking His followers to not spread
word of them in the belief that men should be able to branch out on faith of
the unseen. In His wisdom, He knew that it's easy for some to follow a
miracle worker. His Heavenly Father wanted faith in the tangible and the intangible.
At least one line of Thor's came directly from the Lamb of God:
Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they
that take up the sword shall perish with the sword. (Matthew 26:52)
Thor, pummeling a murderous troll (are there any other kind?) in issue #163,
says "For they who live by violence... most surely will so perish!!"
Jack's Asgardians are like a legion of angels against the devilish trolls,
storm giants, and fire demons that occupy the regions beyond theirs. His cosmic
celestials demanded a type of reconciliation with their Biblical influences,
and in the team's plotting (and Stan's wording), the similarities
Lee and Kirby were of course using the Norse legends complete with their own
"end of the world and resurrection" mythology, but it's interesting
they even bothered to present Ragnarok at all. DC was killing Superman all the
time in "imaginary stories" but the fall of Asgard was a very real
end to the Aesir and I'm sure it was sobering to more than a few readers
who weren't used to seeing their comics heroes die. The concept of "eternal
life" given only to those found worthy only goes right along with the afterlife
requirements in the Bible. Other similarities abound such as Odin's pronouncement
in Thor #139, "Yea, for I am the will, the way, and the wonder!" In
John 14:6, the son of God reveals that He is the way, the truth, and the life.
Christ performed His miracles on unquestioned faith (coupled with a sin-free
life) that gave Him power through His Father. In the early JIMs, Thor beseeched
his noble father for help on several occasions. Jesus sometimes dumfounded His
disciples by answering them with questions. It's my humble understanding
that He sought to get people to think about their own lack of faith.
And He saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then He arose,
and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.
The disciples didn't question their faithlessness then, the next passage
goes on to say, but they did marvel at the greatness of the man they called
Jack and Stan's Iron Man marvelled at an incredible feat of Thor's
in Avengers #4. Thor responded somewhat Biblically, "Why do you sound surprised?
Was that not my intention?"
A defiant Loki nearly triumphs in Thor #175. Inks by Bill Everett. ™ &
© Marvel Characters, Inc.
With Odin, Thor, Balder, Heim-dall, and the others representing Heaven's
hierarchy/ideals, it's Loki, the God of Mischief, who takes on most of
the Devil's chores. Consumed with jealousy of his half-brother and obsessively
covetous of his stepfather's throne, power, and worshipful status, the
scheming son of Laufey's entire being is thrown into repeated attempts
to defeat and destroy the "good forces" of the Aesir and supplant
Odin as ruler of the eternal realm.
7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon
(Satan); and the dragon fought and his angels,
8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
The Devil was cast out of paradise and sought to avenge his defeat and humiliation
with the tempting and destruction of God's children. In the Bible the phrase,
"Then Satan entered..." is used to describe the spiritual influence
of the "Beast."
Loki, who actually graduates from God of Mischief to God of Evil under Stan
and Jack, "spiritually" influences Zarko, Crusher Creel, _the Super
Skrull, and others in his quest to conquer Thor and the Asgardian "paradise."
Like the Prince of Liars, Loki's seductive words help to engage the (not-so-innocent)
Enchantress, the Executioner, and others into attacking his noble sibling. Loki's
godly raiment always comes in hues of serpentine green, symbolically linking
him with old Lucifer.
Loki knows his end (Thor #128). His short-lived triumph can only come with
the world-shattering Ragnarok, yet he cannot "repent" and change his
ways. The Devil and his fallen angels likewise know they cannot defeat Godliness,
but immersed in madness and sin, they cannot retreat from it.
Most likely exhausted from constantly having to come up with new machinations
for Asgard's bad boy, the team didn't bother much with an "ongoing
evil god" over in eternal Olympus. Hermes, Atlas, Hercules, and the venerated
Zeus are largely left alone to their own pursuits. We know Ares, the Grecian
God of War, is trouble, though (for Hercules, if no one else). Pluto (the closest
in character to Loki) only wants out of the Netherworld. He's governed
Hell for eons and wisely has had enough. The storyline in Thor #126-130 was
one of the team's all-time best but it (along with the "Tales of Asgard"
Ragnarok chapter) probably got Kirby seriously thinking of godly conflicts on
a larger scale than who would rule Asgard or a Netherworld.
Later, the isolated "devil in paradise" (Loki), and the reluctant
"caretaker of Hell" (Pluto), would meet in Darkseid, a much more sophisticated
character than either. The dread lord of Apokolips would embrace his own evil,
happily rule his hell, and aspire to subjugate heaven, Earth, and all points
Mangog nearly brought on Armageddon in Thor #154-157. Jack's margin notes
occasionally called him "Magog."
Mangog ™ & © Marvel Characters, Inc.
Odin keeps Loki around but banishes a "sinful," rebellious race away
from the golden realm. The embodiment of that rebellion is the Mangog (a play
on Revelation's Magog) who begins a new "war on heaven" (Thor
#154-157). Odin's "sacrifice" is his son (and his armies) who
are crushed by the composite power of a billion, billion beings. Odin awakens
from his life-giving sleep and forgives the people who warred on him and wrecked
his realm. It's moments like these that makes one wonder how he ever got
to be called the All-Wise.
The Gleaming Messiah
Despite all of the Thor comics' similarities to Christ and the Old and
New Testaments (Odin is even in on Genesis!), it was clearly the Silver Surfer
that Stan looked to as a quasi-messianic figure as the Sixties progressed. With
civil rights/anti-war demonstrations/police and Army actions and other situations
spilling out into America's streets (and getting violent at times), Lee
may have felt that a Marvel character was needed who directly addressed the
much-needed virtues of tolerance and love.
Jesus prayed to God often. In some early Thor yarns, the prince of vikings prayed
to his celestial father for special favors.
™ & © Marvel Characters, Inc.
Away from Jack's influence, the Lee-Buscema Surfer became the Soaring
Sermonizer who preached to all he encountered and was constantly under attack
from Mephisto, the Bullpen's other "devil." Tempted by the Devil
(like Christ) in issue #3, Norrin Radd is offered power, women, etc., but nobly
refuses to bend his will to the satanic figure before him. Kirby, always the
more "cosmic" of the team, probably would've taken the character
in other directions (as other contributors to this magazine have stated). To
be fair to Stan and John, though, their stories were excellent.
Jack and Stan were wise enough, however, to not make any of their creations
too perfect. Superman seemed incapable of making a mistake. The Surfer and Thor
did and made apologies for their actions, keeping them a safe distance from
the perfect King of Kings.
Kirby was against using comics as a "message medium" as he more or
less stated at a convention (see TJKC #5). Stan disagreed. Therein lies the
conflict that religious teachers have been wrestling with for centuries. The
Christian Bible wants those in "the know" to preach to those who aren't.
At the same time, there are those who are more qualified to be preachers than
others. Zealots and fanatics can do as much damage to a sacred cause as a non-believer.
(Christ rebuked some so-called "holy people" for their hypocrisy.)
It's possible that Stan felt that it's never too early to teach good
lessons to the young and that comics could help in their own way. It's
also conceivable that Jack felt that the medium (because of its restrictive
nature) just wasn't a suitable replacement for sound, complete instruction
in values and a way of reaching kids on a spiritual level.
Later, using his own deities, the King would have a chance to finally have
a group of gods meet God (the Source) but even then he'd do it in subtle,
mysterious ways. Still, on the subject of brotherhood, the team was safe. The
Communists would remain comic book menaces throughout the decade and the bomb
would keep the nations' leaders trying at greater understanding of each
other, but Kirby and Lee said a lot (together and apart) in the creation and
promotion of Gabe Jones, Izzy Cohen, Robbie Robertson, Wyatt Wingfoot, and the
first (and arguably, the best) Black super-hero, the Black Panther. And all
of those characters and more made me feel a little bit better about our chances
for real-life brotherhood.
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