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Comic Book / Marvel Mystery Comics

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Don't worry, they'll eventually get along (to the the Axis powers' dismay).

Marvel Mystery Comics (Oct. 1939-Aug. 1957, 159 issues) was the first superhero comic book published by Timely Comics, which would eventually become known as Marvel Comics. Although it initially started as an adventure comic anthology filled with expies of popular pulp characters like The Shadow, The Lone Ranger or Tarzan (i. e. Angel, Masked Raider and Ka-Zar), the less derivative superhero features Human Torch (created by Carl Burgos) and Sub-Mariner (created by Bill Everett)note  quickly proved to be the anthology's true stars, headlining it in every issue.

The popularity of the superhero genre, as well as the patriotic impact of World War II, eventually removed lasting side features such as Electro, Terry Vance the School Boy Sleuth and Jimmy Jupiter to focus in purely superheroic characters like Vision, Patriot, Miss America or the sidekick-centered Young Allies along the series' mainstays Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and Angel. Also, during this time, Torch and Sub-Mariner became popular enough to star in many other spin-offs besides Marvel Mystery Comics.

After the war's end, the success and sales of superhero comics rapidly declined: to counteract it, Timely's other former best-seller Captain America joined the rest of the cast (replacing the long-running superhero Angel) — and later, most importantly, the anthology had a girl-centered Tone Shift with the new features Blonde Phantom, Sun Girl and Venus, as well as the new sidekicks Namora (Sub-Mariner) and Golden Girl (Captain America) headlining covers and issues. However, that wasn't enough to recover the company's old superhero-themed success: by issue #93, the comic underwent a retool, retiring its superhero lineup in favor of an EC Comics-style horror anthology called Marvel Tales.

Decades after the original series folded, the Human Torch would get a successor in the form of the Fantastic Four's Johnny Storm... Not too long afterwards, the revamped Marvel universe's success would be able to bring back the Sub-Mariner (as well as Captain America), making all of them popular to this day. In 2019, in celebration of its 80th anniversary, Marvel Comics released Marvel Comics #1000, which retroactively established a legacy for the Masked Raider by revealing his mask is actually cosmic in origin.


  • Breakout Character: Both the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner got their start in this series, and they immediately became the company's biggest stars alongside the latter Captain America. They ended up getting their own individual comics shortly afterwards, while also having stories in Marvel Mystery Comics — not only that, but both characters would end up also being mainliners in the Human Torch comics, All Winners Comics, All Select Comics (although Sub-Mariner would only appear in half of the issues), and the late Daring Comics. The Human Torch and Toro were also featured in most of Captain America Comics Vol 1's run (where Sub-Mariner would replace them for a few issues), as well as minor Mystic Comics Vol 2 and Sub-Mariner Comics issues.
    • The Angel, while never a major hit, successfully managed to last through most of the comic's run becoming the third-longest feature after the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner, and it even managed to expand beyond Marvel Mystery Comics: The Angel became Sub-Mariner Comics' supporting feature through most of its run, as well the attempted star of the short-lived Mystic Comics Vol 2, and even a cover co-star in All Winners Comics (alongside the minor character "Black Marvel" of Mystic Comics fame)note .
    • Miss America was also popular enough to be the only Marvel Mystery Comics star outside the Human Torch and Namor to have her own solo comic book, although her short-lived series was quickly overshadowed by the supporting feature Patsy Walker. She was also the only woman who managed to join the All Winners Comics team during its very last issues.
  • Bus Crash: The Human Torch stories had this out of the starting gate. Issue #1 introduced Professor Horton and his creation The Human Torch. At the end of the story The Torch is tired of everyone, including the professor, using him for their own personal gain. As a result, he escapes Professor Horton's lab by burning a hole through the roof, leaving the professor behind staring in shock at what happened. The Human Torch story in issue #2 starts with recap of the events in the first story with the addition of us being told that Professor Horton was now dead, though apparently he still had the presence of mind to type up his experience while his house burned down around him. Though he would later be revived (briefly) in the 1970s, this would be his only living appearance during the Golden Age Timely/Atlas era.
  • Captain Ersatz:
    • The Angel, while being a detective with no superpowers, has a costume that is obviously patterned after Superman.
    • The Ka-Zar of these early comics is a shameless ripoff of Tarzan. His own name is just two letters shy of Tarzan's own name.
    • The Masked Raider, an early western comic included in these anthologies, is also an ersatz of The Lone Ranger.
    • The Patriot was basically a way to have Timely's own Captain America in Marvel Mystery Comics without having to leave his own best-selling comic book. Note that, not too long after The Patriot was removed from the comic book, Captain America and Bucky indeed became part of the anthology — the similarities were used by Marvel writers decades later to justify a retcon where Patriot became Captain America after WWII.
  • Canon Discontinuity: The Ka-Zar stories featured in these early comics are considered non-canon to both the later Ka-Zar series, and the Marvel Universe as a whole. The Golden Age Ka-Zar was called "David Rand" and was active in Africa, while the Silver Age (and still appearing) Ka-Zar was called "Kevin Plunder" and was active in the Savage Land, a fictional region of Antarctica. Besides the shared code-name, they have little in common.
  • Canon Immigrant: The Ka-Zar presented here actually started as a standalone pulp magazine character (which was also run by Martin Goodman, the head of Timely Comics) which predates this comic series by three years. The first five comic stories with Ka-Zar are directly adapted into comic form from that magazine.
  • Character Development: The Human Torch started off as a blank slate with a very naive outlook, but he gradually gained a personality as he made more appearances. By the end of his first story, he wises up and not only goes after the mobsters who took advantage of him, but turns his back on his own creator once he realized he planned to exploit his powers for money.
  • Compilation Rerelease: The first 28 issues have been reprinted across several volumes as part of Marvel's hardcover Masterworks series.
  • Covers Always Lie: The first issue has a cover illustrated by sci-fi pulp artist Frank R. Paul, which inaccurately depicts the Human Torch as an evil, killer monster.
  • Creepy Old-Fashioned Diving Suit: In-Universe. Namor's first appearance in the comics involves him encountering two divers in bulky suits and not recognizing them as men, but as robots. Assuming they are a threat to his underwater realm, he kills them both.
  • Distaff Counterpart: In the last post-war issues, the Human Torch and Captain America briefly replaced their kid sidekicks with Sun Girl (also the star of her own short-lived comic book) and Golden Girl (Captain America's Betsy Ross). Namor, which never had a sidekick before, was also joined by Namorita.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Given it is one of the oldest comics published by Marvel (as it became known later on, as these comics were actually published by its precursor, Timely Comics), there is plenty of weirdmess to go around:
    • For starters, the Human Torch presented here is an entirely unrelated character to the more famous one that came later. This Human Torch, while sharing identical powers, is a ridiculously human android who got his powers due to a design flaw that ignites him on contact with air.
    • The very first issue was just called Marvel Comics, but Mystery was sandwiched in the middle by the second issue.
    • Instead of a comic centered on one character, it is an anthology of several different stories, some of which aren't superhero-related at all. Two of them would sometimes be a cartoon comic strip and a two page prose story.
    • For some reason, despite the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner obviously being the headlining stars of the first comic, several early issues tried to shill the more standard-issue, vanilla superhero "The Angel" as the series' main star, even giving him top billing and appearances on several covers. Once it became clear that Torch and Namor were the series' real breadwinners, Angel was busted back down to a mere recurring character, and vanished altogether after several more issues.
    • For the first four issues, the Human Torch wore a blue costume (ironically similar to the outfit the later Human Torch would wear) and was drawn with a detailed face for one story (and the first issues cover), which he soon exchanged for a red costume.
    • The Ka-Zar presented in these early stories is not the same Ka-Zar that would appear in later Marvel stories, and they are set in a separate continuity from the Marvel universe.
  • Flat Character: The Torch and Namor both started off as very simplistic characters, though it's definitely justified in the former's case due to being an Artificial Human.
  • Great White Hunter: Ka-Zar once ran across a hunter named Steve Hardy who spent months capturing animals to bring to zoos or collections (but had no qualms about killing them if he had to). Ka-Zar judged him a good man and did not allow the animals to harm him, but he still foiled his attempts to take animals.
  • Human Popsicle: The Torch's creator, once he discovered his defect that sets him ablaze, seals him inside a block of concrete with no air and buries him underground until he can find a way to fix his defect. Some time after, an air shaft and crack forms in the concrete, giving the Torch just enough oxygen to trigger his fire abilities and break free.
  • Kid Sidekick: Toro became the Human Torch's partner from issues 18 to 67, sharing almost identical fire powers and appearance. Bucky, of Captain America's partner, also joined the comic much later in Young Allies and the late Captain America issues.
  • Later-Installment Weirdness: In the late post-war issues, despite still being a male superhero-centered anthology (with the former exception of Miss America), the comic had a subtle women-oriented Retool: every main superhero gained a female sidekick (while removing the former kid sidekicks Toro and Bucky), and the anthology also starred new female characters such as Blonde Phantom and, very briefly, the goddess Venus. This was probably done to compensate the late 40s' failing superhero comic book sales, trying to relate them to the more profitable girls' comics genre that outsold them.
    • The series was retooled from #93 and onward into "Marvel Tales", a horror anthology series that rode the coat tails of the then hot horror series like Tales from the Crypt.
  • Long Runner: 159 issues over a span of 18 years, although the superhero run of it only ran for 93 issues.
  • Non-Powered Costumed Hero: The Angel, a vigilante with a suspiciously familiar blue suit, yellow Chest Insignia, and red cape, has no powers, just a lot of derring-do.
  • Ridiculously Human Robot: The Human Torch presented here is an android that flawlessly replicates the appearance of a human—or would, if it weren't for his defect that causes him to spontaneously ignite upon exposure to oxygen.
  • Secret Identity: The Angel of this comic is distinct in that he doesn't have one.
  • Tragic Monster: While the Human Torch definitely wasn't evil, his initial appearance was a far cry from that of a superhero—his fire abilities unwittingly cause a lot of destruction, and he even accidentally kills someone.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: In the first issue, The Torch desired to return to the scientist who created him, but turned his back on him and goes it alone once he realizes he just wanted to exploit him like the mobsters he just dealt with.