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Science Fiction, the Marvel Way

Marvel Science Stories 38-08By the summer of 1938, the science-fiction genre seemed to be flourishing. Astounding was generating a good deal of excitement by helping readers to “. . . experience the new worlds that science might offer.” Thrilling Wonder Stories was nearing a peak, publishing action-adventure stories for kids. Ray Palmer was rapidly turning Amazing Stories around following years of struggle.

Martin Goodman, who would later be the publisher of Marvel Comics, debuted Marvel Science Stories in July. Very adept at spotting trends, Goodman would, “Let someone else risk their money experimenting with different types and genres of magazines . . . Once a winner emerged, Goodman would jump in with a knockoff. Or two. Or twelve . . . .”

Noticing the growing success of the science-fiction pulps, Goodman decided to launch his own. He acquired cover art from illustrator Norman Saunders and stories by journeymen such as Arthur J. Burks, Stanton A. Coblentz, and Henry Kuttner. Later issues would feature fiction by Eando Binder, David H. Keller, Harl Vincent, Jack Williamson, and others, and covers by Frank R. Paul and Wesso.

Not content with just one science-fiction pulp, Goodman released a second in early 1939—Dynamic Science Stories. Again using covers by Paul and Saunders, Dynamic published stories by Nelson Bond, L. Sprague de Camp, Manly Wade Wellman, Robert Moore Williams, and others. A third Goodman science-fiction title, Uncanny Stories, appeared in 1941.

Dynamic Science Stories 39-02For Goodman, “. . . success meant . . . jumping on a successful trend and pumping multiple similar titles . . . through the pipeline as fast as possible in order to rake in as much profit as possible . . . . If any one foundered below a certain profit threshold, it was scuttled without so much as a backward glance.” Thus, Uncanny Stories lasted but a single issue while two numbers of Dynamic Science Stories found their way to the racks. Marvel Science Stories ran for five issues before being added to Goodman’s Red Circle weird-menace line as Marvel Tales. After two shudder pulp issues, Goodman converted it back into a science-fiction magazine entitled Marvel Stories for two more issues, the last dated April 1941. He tried another Marvel pulp during the science-fiction boom of the early fifties, but only six issues appeared.

To learn more about the image used in this post, click on the illustrations. Click here for references consulted for this article.

So few of these have been reprinted by the various pulp reprint operations like Adventure House, and I wish they’d take a crack at them since Marvel Science could be completed as a run in so few issues. They can’t be that bad, can they? And at least a few people besides me would love to comb through these stories for ‘prototypes’ and ‘prefigurings’ of concepts that later became successful at Timely/Atlas/Marvel Comics.

I recall that Marvel was considering reprinting them themselves (back around their 70th Anniversary) in some format similar to (if not actual) Marvel Masterworks.

I wonder if they could possibly have renewed the copyrights, but it hardly seems possible. I know Adventure House has reprinted some of Goodman’s ‘weird menace’ pulps, so that can’t be it, can it? Or is it just fear of putting one’s business into Marvel/Disney’s legal crosshairs, regardless of right or wrong?

  • Dennis, I believe your last hypothesis is the correct one. When Altus Press reprinted the Ka-Zar stories, the collection originally had a different title than the one it has now: KING OF FANG AND CLAW. This was done to silence legal rumblings from Marvel Comics.

    If memory serves, Adventure House also did a Ka-Zar pulp replica. It was withdrawn again due to legal issues raised by Marvel.

    There have been similar issues with Black Dog Books and one of their announced reprints, later withdrawn. Today’s pulp reprint publishers, all of them small companies, have to be very careful when it comes to dealing with a company such as Marvel Comics. Perhaps they’d win a lawsuit, but doing so would surely be costly. And Marvel/Disney has very deep pockets.

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