Fandoms like to connect dots. Wanting to make sense of the fictional worlds that our favorite characters inhabit is often one of the things that helps to define a particular fandom. Vintage comic book fans — Silver Age Marvel fans in particular — have developed a notion which has come to be called character "prototypes". A prototype is a usually-obscure character that preceded a more famous or important character and is similar to that character in a noteworthy way. "Prototype" probably isn't quite the right name for the concept. It's often just a name, a visual look, or a super-power that was recycled for later use — perhaps sometimes knowingly, perhaps not. Still, prototypes do have their appeal. It's another little hook into understanding comics history. One of the most famous Marvel prototype issues, Strange Tales #97 (cover dated June 1962), contains a story which features characters named Aunt May and Uncle Ben, just prior to the appearance of characters of that name as Peter Parker's aunt and uncle in Amazing Fantasy #15. There's a Strange Tales #97 CGC 4.0 in this week's 2021 May 16-17 Sunday & Monday Comics, Animation & Art Weekly Online Auction #122120 from Heritage Auctions.
There are a number of Silver Age Marvel comics that contain noteworthy instances of prior use for a now-famous name. A magnetically-powered character named Magneto was cover-featured on Strange Tales #84 (May 1961) before the famous version of the character appeared in X-Men #1 (September 1963). A character named the Hulk actually appeared twice in Journey into Mystery (#62, November 1960 and #66, March 1961), and then a different Hulk then appeared in Tales to Astonish #21 (July 1961), before the famous Hulk debuted in Hulk #1 (May 1962). There are numerous other examples of the reuse of names, powers, and sometimes even similar origin stories.
While all of these and more are sought after by collectors to varying degrees, there's something about the appearance of Aunt May and Uncle Ben in Strange Tales #97 that makes it special. As is the case with several prototypes, the idea that the same creative team of Steve Ditko and Stan Lee worked on the relevant stories in both Strange Tales #97 is certainly part of the appeal here. The notion that the Strange Tales #97 characters could pass for younger versions of the famous Aunt May and Uncle Ben has also caught the eye of many collectors. And the fact that Strange Tales #97 was published just three months before Amazing Fantasy #15 also likely has something to do with it.
In the Strange Tales #97 story, Aunt May and Uncle Ben have a niece named Linda Brown — who turns out to be a mermaid. This story has captured imaginations to such an extent that she is sometimes humorously referred to as Peter Parker's mermaid cousin. It's just a fun story that is very loosely connected to one of the most important comic book characters ever created. There's a Strange Tales #97 CGC 4.0 in this week's 2021 May 16-17 Sunday & Monday Comics, Animation & Art Weekly Online Auction #122120 from Heritage Auctions.