Marvel has retconned many of its late 1950s pre-hero monsters into the Marvel Universe proper over the past few decades. The most famous of these so far has been Groot, plucked from obscure infamy in Tales to Astonish #13 to become a member of Guardians of the Galaxy and ultimately, Marvel Cinematic Universe fame. His first appearance has skyrocketed as a result — copies of Tales to Astonish #13 CGC 7.5 have appreciated 90x over the past 20 years, for example. While Strange Tales Annual #1 may not have quite that kind of strength, it’s still a fascinating example of a similar phenomenon, and there’s a Strange Tales Annual #1 (Marvel, 1962) CBCS VG/FN 5.0 Off-white to white pages up for auction at this week’s 2021 November 14-15 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122146 at Heritage Auctions.
Strange Tales Annual #1 ties with Millie the Model Annual #1 as the first Marvel annual. Annuals have been popular since the comic periodicals of the 19th century, had a particularly strong tradition in the UK in the 1930s and beyond, and became a phenomenon in American comics in the way we’re familiar with today in the 1950s with publishers such as Archie Comics, EC Comics, Avon Publications, Dell and others. DC Comics started producing annuals with 1960’s Superman Annual #1, and Marvel followed in 1962 with the Strange Tales and Millie the Model annuals.
Strange Tales Annual #1 hit the newsstands in 1962 about a week after the Human Torch took over the ongoing title itself with Strange Tales #101. Fantastic Four #7, Incredible Hulk #3, Tales to Astonish #36 (second issue of the Ant-Man series in the title, and 3rd appearance of Ant-Man overall), and Journey into Mystery #84 (second appearance of Thor) were on the stands at this time. This feels a little like Marvel hedging its bets as it slowly re-entered the superhero arena, as the annual itself contains reprints of pre-hero monster stories from late 1959 through mid-1960.
One of those reprints is from Strange Tales #73 in a story featuring the giant and intelligent mutant ant Grottu. The six-page tale Grottu, King of the Insects! was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and inked by Bill Everett. In this classic cold war era Marvel story, Communists have set up a scientific base for atomic tests in a remote location in Africa, and this results in the creation of Grottu. However, a retcon from the early 2000s, reveals that the Deviant Kro was posing as a Russian soldier conducting these tests, and presumably helping the Soviets with their atomic program in the process. While this has no direct connection to the Eternals film, it does have some parallels to some important plot points of the story.
Marvel built its annuals into an important part of their publishing strategy from this point on, and Strange Tales Annual #1 was the start of that. An obscure but historically important issue that has increasing relevance today, there’s a Strange Tales Annual #1 (Marvel, 1962) CBCS VG/FN 5.0 Off-white to white pages up for auction at this week’s 2021 November 14-15 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122146 at Heritage Auctions.
Strange Tales Annual #1 (Marvel, 1962) CBCS VG/FN 5.0 Off-white to white pages. Believed to be the first Marvel annual. Jack Kirby cover and art. Dick Ayers, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Paul Reinman, and Bill Everett art. Overstreet 2021 VG 4.0 value = $142; FN 6.0 value = $213.