Ask the average comic book fan what comes to mind when you mention Tales to Astonish, and one of a few common answers will probably follow. The classic Marvel series, which had a life span (January 1959 to March 1968) basically mirrored the Silver Age, ran for 101 issues and features a handful of key moments in Silver Age comic history. It is also mostly overshadowed today by its sister run, Tales of Suspense (which ran for the same timeframe). But diving deeper into these classic pages reveals a number of characters and issues that have gone extremely overlooked in recent years.
Perhaps most notably, Tales to Astonish #13 features the first appearance of Groot. Beyond the fact that it is a key introduction to a long-standing Marvel character, the book has become increasingly popular – and expensive – because of its age (November 1960) and its scarcity. Only 335 exist in the CGC universal census, with just 10 registered at a grade higher than 7.5.
Other popular first appearances in Tales to Astonish include Hank Pym and Ant-Man in costume (#27 and #35), The Wasp (#44), and Giant-Man (#49). The series also included a lengthy Ant-Man run (issues #25-#58), a Giant-Man/Hulk crossover (issues #59-#69), and a Hulk/Sub-Mariner crossover (issues #70-#101).
After TTA #101, the series would famously split into a solo publication for Incredible Hulk and a Sub-Mariner/Iron Man crossover series. Tales to Astonish solidified the popularity of Hulk, leading to his own series, after his first solo run was canceled after just six issues in 1962-1963. Once it was relaunched in Incredible Hulk #102, it would run for another 372 issues, finally closing out Volume 1 in March 1999.
So while it’s not a stretch to say we have TTA to thank for allowing us to have Groot and the Incredible Hulk still with us today, there is much more buried within the pages of these 101 issues. Here are a few underrated and affordable books any serious Silver Age Collector should hunt for.
Tales to Astonish #21 (prototype Hulk character)
Almost a year before Incredible Hulk #1 would be published, TTA #21 introduced a character known as Hulk, who is a large, brutish figure who moviegoers believe is only on screen, but who has the ability to come out of the screen and wreak havoc. This story in the pages of #21 was used to test the popularity of this type of character, with Stan Lee specifically requesting readers to respond with feedback at the end of Hulk’s story. In addition, this is the first comic in this series to include the “MC” (Marvel Comics) logo on the cover.
There are less than 100 CGC graded copies of this book on the census, but the scarcity apparently isn’t doing much to drive prices through the ceiling. One of the few 8.0 graded copies recently sold for only $660. It’s probably only a hardcore, niche market that would recognize this book for what it really is, but until it’s popularity spreads, this is a bargain.
Tales to Astonish #52 (first appearance of the second Black Knight – Nathan Garrett)
Much has been made recently about Dane Whitman, the third Black Knight, and his role with the Avengers and his connection to Sersi and the Eternals. But Nathan Garrett – the second Black Knight – precedes Whitman’s Knight by more than three years. His appearance in TTA shows that he is a direct descendant of the original Black Knight (Sir Percy of Scandia, who debuted in 1955’s Black Knight #1) and is a super-villain worthy of Ant-Man’s attention.
Black Knight would never appear again in the pages of TTA, making this first appearance also his only appearance. Despite this relative scarcity, high-grade copies of this book also remain within reach. The most recent CGC 9.2 copy sold for less than $600 while the top of the available grades (9.4) last sold for $1,320.
Tales to Astonish #77 (Hulk’s identity revealed to be Bruce Banner)
Whether it’s Mark Ruffalo, Edward Norton, or Eric Bana, the Hulk stories ingrained in our brains from the big screen all revolve around the conflict of Bruce Banner unable to contain his inner Hulk and the struggles of how he can exist in society with his angry side always lurking under the surface. This is a theme through long stretches of the comics as well. There is a constant search to find and contain Banner (well, at least until Professor Hulk showed up), and it all started when Hulk’s identity was revealed to be Bruce Banner by Rick Jones in TTA #77.
Again, there aren’t many graded copies floating around out there (only 109 on the universal census), but a CGC 9.2 copy sold less than six months ago for $340. That’s highway robbery for a Silver Age classic of this quality and magnitude.
There are so many other classic and underappreciated issues: Hulk’s first appearance in TTA #59, the first appearance of Abomination in TTA #90, the famous Silver Surfer cover in TTA #93. What Tales to Astonish issues are your favorites? Drop in a comment and let me know!