Strange Tales introduced Doctor Strange" and "Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.", and was a showcase for the science fiction/suspense stories of artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, and for the groundbreaking work of writer-artist Jim Steranko. Two previous, unrelated pulp magazines also bore that title.
The American pulp magazine Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror was published from September 1931 through January 1933 cover dates, for seven issues. The name was revived by Wildside Press in the 2000s. A second pulp, titled simply Strange Tales, was a British science-fiction magazine cover-dated April to October 1946.
Monsters and magician
The Marvel Comics series premiered, with a June 1951 cover-date, as a horror anthology from the company's 1950s precursor, Atlas Comics. Initially modeled after the gory morality tales of the popular and groundbreaking EC line of comics, Strange Tales became less outré with the 1954 imposition of the Comics Code, which prohibited graphic horror, as well as vampires, zombies and other classical monsters.
The comic changed again with the return of industry legend Jack Kirby, the artist who had co-created Captain America for the company and then worked elsewhere for 17 years. Starting with #68 (April 1959), Strange Tales was revamped to reflect the then-current trend of science fiction drive-in movie monsters. Virtually every issue would open with a Kirby monster story (generally inked by Dick Ayers), followed by one or two twist-ending thrillers or sci-fi tales drawn by Don Heck, Paul Reinman, or Joe Sinnott, with the whole thing capped by an often-surreal, sometimes self-reflexive Stan Lee-Steve Ditko short.
The anthology switched to superheroes during the Silver Age of Comic Books, retaining the sci-fi, suspense and monsters as backup features for a time.Strange Tales' first superhero, in 12- to 14-page stories, was the Fantastic Four's Human Torch, Johnny Storm, beginning in #101 (Oct. 1962). Here, Johnny still lived with his elder sister, Susan Storm, in fictional Glenville, Long Island, New York, where he continued to attend high school and, with youthful naivete, attempted to main his "secret identity" (later retconned to reveal that his friends and neighbors knew of his dual identity from Fantastic Four news reports, but simply played along). Supporting characters included Johnny's girlfriend, Doris Evans, usually seen only in consternation as Johnny cheerfully flew off to battle bad guys. Ayers took over the penciling after 10 issues, later followed by original Golden Age Human Torch creator Carl Burgos and others, with Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel scripting issues #112-113 (Sept.-Oct. 1963) under the pseudonym "Joe Carter". The Fantastic Four made occasional cameo appearances, and the Thing became a co-star with #123 (Aug. 1964).
The title became a "split book" with the introduction of sorcerer Doctor Strange], by Lee and artist Steve Ditko. This 9- to 10-page feature debuted in #110 (July 1963), and after an additional story and then skipping two issues returned permanently with #114. Ditko's surrealistic mystical landscapes and increasingly head-trippy visuals helped make the feature a favorite of college students, according to contemporaneous accounts. Eventually, as co-plotter and later sole plotter, in the "Marvel Method", Ditko would take Strange into ever-more-abstract realms, which yet remained well-grounded thanks to Lee's reliably humanistic, adventure/soap opera dialog.
Though Lee and Ditko themselves interacted less and less as each went their separate creative ways, the storyline culminated with what fans and historians consider one of modern comics' great moments: the introduction, in issue #146 (July 1966), of Ditko's grand and enduring conception of Eternity, the personification of the universe, depicted as a majestic silhouette whose outlines are filled with the cosmos and quickly becoming a cornerstone of the Marvel mythos. It was a groundbreaking creation at a time long before such cosmic conceits were commonplace, and Ditko's final bow on the series.
Steranko and spies
The Human Torch and Thing had already been replaced in #135 (Aug. 1965) by Nick Fury, a superspy in keeping with the concurrent James Bond/The Man from U.N.C.L.E. craze. The 12-page feature was initially by Lee and Kirby, with the latter supplying such inventive and enduring gadgets and hardware as the Helicarrier — an airborne aircraft carrier — as well as human-replicant LMDs (Life Model Decoys), and even automobile airbags. Marvel's all-purpose terrorist organization Hydra was introduced here as well.
The feature "Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." soon became the province of writer-penciler-colorist Jim Steranko, under whom it became one of the creative zeniths of the Silver Age. Streranko introduced or popularized in comics such art movements of the day as psychedelia and op art, built on Kirby's long standing work in photomontage, and created comics' first four-page spread — again inspired by Kirby, who in the Golden Age had pioneered the first full-page and double-page spreads. All the while, he spun plots of intense intrigue, barely hidden sensuality, and hi-fi hipness — and supplying his own version of Bond girls, essentially, in skintight leather, green hair with matching eyeshadow and accessory whip, pushing what was allowable under the Comics Code at the time.
Warlock and voodoo
Strange Tales temporarily ended with #168 (May 1968). The following month, Doctor Strange's adventures continued in the full-length Doctor Strange #169, Nick Fury's in Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1. Doctor Strange was canceled with #183 (Nov. 1969). Four years later, Strange Tales resumed at its old numbering with #169 (Sept. 1973), which introduced the supernatural feature "Brother Voodoo" by writer Len Wein and artist Gene Colan. This lasted only to issue #173 (April 1974), with Brother Voodoo continuing briefly in the black-and-white Marvel horror-comics magazine Tales of the Zombie. This was followed by two different creative teams producing three stories of The Golem in four issues (#174-177), the second of these a fill-in monster-reprint issue.
The book had better luck with writer-artist-colorist Jim Starlin's take on Adam Warlock, picking up the character from the 1972-73 series Warlock (a.k.a. The Power of Warlock) and reviving him in Strange Tales #178 (Feb. 1975). Another creative high-water mark, this feverishly imaginative feature from Starlin, who had similarly reinvigorated Captain Marvel, introduced the characters Gamora, Pip the Troll and The Magus, and helped establish the mythos Starlin would mine in his many "Infinity" sagas of the 1990s. After issue #181 (Aug. 1975), the story would continue in Warlock #9 (Oct. 1975), picking up from the old series' numbering. Strange Tales soldiered on with Doctor Strange reprints through issue #188 (Nov. 1976).
Cloak and Dagger
After Doctor Strange's second series was canceled in the 1980s, Strange Tales was relaunched as Vol. 2, #1 (April 1987). A split book once again, it featured 10-page Doctor Strange and Cloak and Dagger stories (the latter continuing from Cloak and Dagger #11). This ended with issue #19 (Oct. 1988), after which new Doctor Strange and Cloak and Dagger series were launched.
A one-shot Human Torch, Thing, and Doctor Strange story, by writer Kurt Busiek, with painted art by Ricardo Villagran, was released in square bound bookshelf format in 1994. Another one-shot, the 52-page Strange Tales: Dark Corners in 1998 was an anthology featuring Morbius the Living Vampire, the Gargoyle, Cloak and Dagger, and Spider-Man. A Strange Tales miniseries featuring Man-Thing and Werewolf by Night was published in 1998 to tie up plot lines after their individual series had been canceled. Ironically, although four issues were solicited, only two issues of this volume saw print, and the conclusions of those story lines were never released.