Just when Marvel was going through a renaissance with the introduction of The Fantastic Four and subsequent stable of new characters, Wolfe was establishing himself as a journalist and Andy Warhol was gaining national attention for his ideas about how images work on the collective consciousness of a culture. While Roy Lichtenstein famously stole art from panels of comic books to pretend that they were his own ironic commentary, Warhol's paintings of known pop culture figures such as Popeye were about the shared experiences of the viewers. When he revealed his series of soup can paintings in the summer of 1962, Marvel introduced Thor, Ant-Man and Spider-Man, as well as Dr. Doom. In just the few previous years, Wolfe had moved from a newspaper in Springfield, Massachusetts to writing for the New York Herald Tribune. By the end of 1962, three things happened to change each of their lives. Marvel's problems with introducing super-hero titles [ see The Post Anniversary ] went away; a gallery owner suggested that Warhol make art using serious subjects, resulting in his "Death and Disaster" series; and a newspaper strike in New York began (lasting until the end of March 1963), prompting Wolfe to seek freelance work for magazines, specifically Esquire.
To give some frame of reference for how these things were significant, let's start with Marvel. From the summer of 1957 on, their situation required them to cancel one title in order to introduce another onto the racks. In 1960, they cancelled two in order to revive two others cancelled in 1957. They also began playing with the frequency of publishing some titles and in 1961 cancelled two but added three new ones, including "Fantastic Four". In 1962, one was cancelled to introduce "The Hulk" and another was cancelled to bring back "Two-Gun Kid". During those three years, of the four new titles and three revivals only "Fantastic Four" and two revived westerns were still published by the end of 1963. Contrast that to the one year period beginning in December 1962. With four cancellations and four new titles, one of them, "Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos", lasted until 1981 and "Amazing Spider-man", "Avengers" and "X-Men" continued (with interruptions and re-numberings) into the present. That's a greatly improved track record, which continued when "Daredevil" was introduced the following year and soon all of their super-hero titles were being published monthly.
Warhol acquired his first Factory workspace in 1962 and in 1963 had it redone in silver and reflective surfaces, making it a notorious hangout for scenesters and creating a network that discussed his work in influential circles. His "Death and Disaster" images were mentioned everywhere, so that when the President was assassinated in November the series made Warhol seem eerily prescient. People who may have previously been amused or charmed by his work in the past would later actively seek to know what he'd work on next.
Tom Wolfe's work for Esquire took on a casual approach he wouldn't have used for newspaper journalism, and when its editor published a personal communication from Wolfe in the place of an article in late 1963, Esquire's readership could read Wolfe almost without a filter for the first time. The title of that letter-turned-magazine-piece was, believe it or not, "There goes (VAROOM! VAROOM!) that Kandy Kolored (THPHHHHHH!) tangerine-flake streamline baby (RAHGHHHH!) around the bend (BRUMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM......" The article he was supposed to be submitting at the time was meant to be about customizing cars and amateur racing enthusiasts. That explains the reference to "tangerine-flake"-- metal flake paint was not only sparkly and attention grabbing but at the time it was difficult to apply by spraying (technological advances since then have made it easier), so it was a sign among aficionados of a gear head willing to make the extra effort to carefully apply the temperamental substance by hand. Unfortunately for Wolfe and the Esquire editor, the November 1963 article came in the wake of Timothy Leary (and Richard Alpert) being dismissed from Harvard over their experimentation with LSD earlier that year. As information about the new substance gradually reached the general public through commercial mass media that didn't have the firmest understanding of psychopharmacology, there was a lot of talk about citrus and sugar cubes that left the average Joe Lunchpail thinking that anything colorful and sweet and therefore likely to appeal to children might be hiding a chemical that will melt their brains. Now go back and read that title again. You can begin to see how Tom Wolfe was going to be cast against type as the decade wore on.
|Doctor Strange #180 (05/69), page 10|
It was collected with 20 other essays into the book "The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby", published in 1965. The notoriety fueled a demand for more work written in its more personal "New Journalism" style and in less than two years he had written the pieces that would be compiled as "The Pump House Gang"(1968).
Perhaps giving in to the inevitable, he went on the road with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters to document their antics and speculate on their motives, resulting in the book "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" (also 1968, same day in fact-- August 20).
|Doctor Strange #180 (05/69), page 11|
By the time the Asmodeus story had played itself out, the sales of "Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." and "Doctor Strange" were starting to dwindle. The New Year's Eve story planned for #179 was replaced by a reprint and instead ran in #180, released in February with a May cover date, as was S.H.I.E.L.D. #12. Both titles would get used to skipping a month from that point on. Marvel's other two-feature anthologies, "Tales Of Suspense" and "Tales To Astonish", had each been successfully split into two separate titles but "Strange Tales" hadn't been so lucky. With a price increase looming, a decision was made to reduce each title to bi-monthly status rather than cancel them immediately. The next issue of each came out in April with a July cover date, mere weeks before both Marvel and DC raised their cover prices to 15¢. Each lasted two more issues.
|Incredible Hulk #142 (08/71), page 10|
Roy Thomas had taken over scripting "Incredible Hulk" as "Doctor Strange" was winding down. He was still writing it two years later and apparently saw it as the perfect vehicle for a second nod to Wolfe. After all, the one situation the Hulk hadn't yet been in was having a group of socialites making a pet cause out of him. The single issue story from #142 involves a couple named Reggie and Malicia Parrington who throw a fund-raiser for the Hulk's legal defense (which--spoiler-- he completely fails to grasp) in order to one-up Leonard Bernstein's support for the Black Panthers the previous year, which was the basis for Wolfe's article. Their daughter Samantha hates the fact that her parents ignore serious issues impacting more people, such as women's rights, and leaves the party. Meanwhile, the Enchantress (prevented by Odin from leaving Asgard) sees this as an opportunity to get revenge on the Hulk (for issue #101) and imbues Samantha with the identity of a Valkyrie she had previously stolen as a disguise to attack the Avengers [in Avengers #83(12/70), also written by Roy Thomas].
There's several contemporary references going on here. Let's start with the first panel. The stage play "The Effect Of Gamma Rays On Man In The Moon Marigolds" was already five years old when it came to New York (off Broadway) in 1970, but won the 1971 Pulitzer for Drama (probably announced in April when this story should have been already scripted). I'm not sure who "Harold" is supposed to be, but Paul Newman produced and directed the film version, which came out at the end of 1972. Without the Hulk, by the way. The mention of "I Am Furious (Green)" is obviously a take on "I Am Curious (Yellow)"(1967) and lesser known companion film "I Am Curious (Blue)"(1968) by Swedish director Vilgot Sjöman. It wasn't even the most outrageous abuse of the title; that would be Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane #106 (11/70) with its own radical chic cover story, "I Am Curious (Black)", in which Kryptonian technology turns Lois black for a day or so.
|Incredible Hulk #142 (08/71), page 16|
The second panel shows someone looking to benefit the X-Men "if I can find them". This refers to the fact that Roy Thomas returned to writing the X-Men for it's final year of new stories. The last one, #66 (03/70), guest-starred the Hulk. Marvel wanted to cancel the title. Thomas convinced the owners to remove the X-Men reprints from "Marvel Super-Heroes" (which they shared with Daredevil reprints) and replace them with Iron Man reprints from "Tales Of Suspense" and return to publishing X-Men as a reprint book with #67 (12/70). Thomas would eventually bring back the team as guest stars in various titles he either wrote or edited beginning in 1972. Finally, Wolfe himself appears in panels 3 and 5.
Wolfe comes back a few pages later after the Enchantress has transformed Samantha and compels her to return to the party to attack the Hulk.
The Valkyrie persona was used once more by the Enchantress in an early Defenders issue, #4 (02/73), this time written by Steve Englehart but edited by Thomas. In that case, the Valkyrie identity completely overwrote that of a woman named Barbara Norris who had been driven insane by one of Doctor Strange's enemies. The Defenders objected, since Norris was unable to consent to the transformation and much of the next ten years of the series was spent trying to reconcile the new Valkyrie character's split identity. Parrington was brought back as the Valkyrie for a 12-issue Defenders series in 2001 and was joined by her parents for the sequel "The Order" in 2002.
Tom Wolfe, however, would only revisit Marvel as a trivia question or in a veiled allusion from mischievous writers to nostalgic fans. Of course, I haven't bothered to reread 40 years of letters pages to see if he wrote in to them. Tell you what; if you find such a letter, let me know in the comments.