A few years ago, a 1953 Mechanix Illustrated article about Mutants by Otto Binder and illustrated by Kurt Schaffenberger made the rounds online with claims that it was one of the inspirations for radiation-inspired heroes from the Hulk to X-Men. And perhaps it was to some extent, but that article was likely in turn inspired by Wilmar Shiras's critically acclaimed Children of the Atom from earlier that year. That novel was an expansion of the author's previous short stories from Astounding Science Fiction, and like the title itself, had a plot that sounds very familiar to us today: children born to parents exposed to atomic radiation have become Mutants, and are brought together in a secret school for such gifted children where they can explore their unique powers away from a world that would probably shun and fear them. Of course, both Binder's article and Children of the Atom were influenced by the 1936 novel Odd John — the story that coined the term Homo Superior.
The point is that such ideas evolve over time, even after they jump into comics. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's story "The Man in the Sky" in Marvel's Amazing Adult Fantasy #14 seems inspired by Children of the Atom and but also serves as a prelude of sorts for the Marvel Mutants to come. There's a copy of Amazing Adult Fantasy #14 UK Edition (Marvel, 1962) CGC VF- 7.5 Off-white to white pages up for auction in this week's 2021 July 4-5 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122127 from Heritage Auctions.
A sequence early on in the "The Man in the Sky" explains the genesis of the Mutant of that story in a way that seems directly inspired by Children of the Atom:
Perhaps it all started with the big bomb, for Brad Carter was an atomic scientist. During his years of research, his body absorbed small doses of radiation every day… not enough to harm him, but…
…enough to affect his infant son, Tad. But, who could have suspected that the seemingly normal baby would grow up to become…
Such concerns had actually gone mainstream by the mid-1950s, as atomic bomb tests began to grow more and more frequent. This 1957 article about the possibility of Mutants being created from Strontium 90 fallout in the St. Cloud Times of Saint Cloud, Minnesota was not the only piece of its type from the period:
One of the dire results of radiation exposure, admitted the instructor, was the creation of additional mutants. Somehow, he explains, a certain level of radioactive exposure will cause changes in the human genes– the components of sex cells which pass on hereditary traits. Then, the infants of those thus affected will be mutants — with physical aberrations from the normal. These mutants, will in turn reproduced mutants, the teacher says.
Mutants have always existed, but the super-bombs will bring about a man-made cause of mutations.
A story which drew upon both the fiction and the real fears of its times, "The Man in the Sky" was a step towards Marvel's X-Men. There's even a Professor X type of figure in the story to help guide the young Mutant to his destiny. A fascinating issue in the context of both comic and real world history, there's a copy of Amazing Adult Fantasy #14 UK Edition (Marvel, 1962) CGC VF- 7.5 Off-white to white pages up for auction in this week's 2021 July 4-5 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122127 from Heritage Auctions.
Amazing Adult Fantasy #14 UK Edition (Marvel, 1962) CGC VF- 7.5 Off-white to white pages. Features a Professor X prototype. Last issue before title changed to Amazing Fantasy. Steve Ditko cover and art. Overstreet 2020 VF 8.0 value for US edition = $432. CGC census 6/21: 1 in 7.5, none higher.