Back When the Wasp Literally Just Told People Stories in the Comics

This is "Turns Back the Page," which is a look at interesting back-up stories from comic books. If you have suggestions for back-ups that you'd like to see me write about, drop me a line at brianc@cbr.com!

Okay, today we're going to talk about a fascinating time in Marvel Comics history, the point where they began to make their transition into an almost entirely superhero comic book publisher. At the start of the 1960s, Marvel had a wide variety of titles, but as superhero comics became more and more popular, the deal that Marvel had at the time with their distributor (which limited the amount of titles that they could release - this was because their distributor was owned by the same company that owned DC Comics, Marvel's biggest competitor) meant that they had to pick and choose which concepts to keep and which ones to drop. And it was clear that superheroes were more popular than science fiction/horror, which had originally been the main type of story that took place in the pages of Tales to Astonish, Tales of Suspense, Strange Tales and Journey Into Mystery.

Eventually, all four of those titles gained superhero lead features (Ant-Man, Iron Man, Human Torch and Thor), but the back-ups continued to be the same stories that existed before the superheroes took over the lead feature. Over time, that became kind of weird, as the types of stories were so dramatically different, ya know?

After a while, three of the books (Tales to Astonish, Strange Tales and Tales of Suspense) added a second feature to them (Hulk joined Tales to Astonish, Doctor Strange joined Strange Tales and Captain America joined Tales of Suspense - in all three of those cases, the NEW characters ended up taking over the feature when Marvel finally got a new distribution deal and were able to expand later in the decade and give each superhero their own title) and the fourth, Journey Into Mystery, added a Thor-related back-up feature called Tales of Asgard (which was some of the best work that Jack Kirby and Stan Lee did together in the 1960s).

However, during the in-between moments, Stan Lee came up with a fascinating way to use the story ideas that they had already planned to use in Tales to Astonish, but in a way that tied in to the superhero lead feature. In Tales to Astonish #51 (seven issues after Wasp joined Ant-Man as his co-star and two issues after Ant-Man became Giant-Man), Stan Lee and his brother, Larry Lieber, delivered the first Wasp solo back-up feature, titled "The Wonderful Wasp Tells a Tale." The concept was that the Wasp would visit veterans and little kids and tell them stories. The stories, of course, would just be stuff that would have appeared in Tales to Astonish on their own before this feature came out.

Here is the first one...

That's the only full one that I'll share, but I'll show you the set-ups for the next three issues on the next page!

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