One of the most defining characteristics between DC and Marvel comic books is the settings used for the narratives. From its early days, DC chose mostly fictional urban centers like Metropolis and Gotham City to tell of the exploits of Superman and Batman, while Marvel initially hinted at real locations before setting its tales in existing sites, which included plenty of New Jersey cities.
If we examine the first issue of Captain America comics, cover-dated March 1941 but published in December 1940, the second story about the title character’s exploits, “Case No. 2,” opens with two self-proclaimed psychics predicting the destruction by saboteurs of Fort Bix, a thinly disguised version of New Jersey’s Fort Dix. When the tale was retold in the April 1965 issue of Tales of Suspense, the army base was rechristened Fort Lehigh and relocated to Virginia. It recently moved back to New Jersey under its new name in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In 1945, the original Human Torch and Sub-Mariner each took their crime-fighting talents to Atlantic City where, respectively, they solved a rash of hotel burglaries and thwarted a murder attempt. By 1979, New Yorker Tony Stark and his armor-clad alter ego Iron Man visited the New Jersey resort only to find three of his foes planning a heist. The cover of Iron Man #123 celebrated the advent of the city’s casino era by depicting the title character facing his opponents on a giant roulette wheel.
By the 1980s, several of Stark’s companions in the Avengers also found their way to the Garden State, particularly Bergen County, what online sources today identify as one of the wealthiest in the state. The comics’ use of actual locations and details of the residences of characters provided a social/economic fabric that helped create a sense of realism and identification for readers.
Husband and wife Henry Pym and Janet Van Dyne, better known as Ant-Man and the Wasp when they joined the Avengers, settled in at the Van Dyne mansion in the Bergen County town of Cresskill, which the Niche website notes “is a suburb of New York city…and is one of the best places to live in New Jersey.”
The 1983 Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe identified Cresskill as the birthplace of Van Dyne, a millionaire heiress, and Avengers #212 places the mansion in “the wealthiest part of Cresskill…” The town also served as the site of Pym’s laboratories over the years.
Another Bergen town, the Borough of Leonia, was home to Scarlet Witch and Vision in the 1980s. In the first issue of the couple’s limited series in 1982, the town is described as “just fifteen minutes from the George Washington Bridge [and] known as a haven for New York City executives…”
While Leonia may be in one of the state’s wealthiest counties, Scarlet Witch and Vision’s dwelling is referred to in Dr. Strange Vol. 2 #60 as a “modest house.” After the birth of their children, however, the couple relocated to Cresskill.
Other New Jersey characters in Marvel comics include Simon Williams, a.k.a. Wonder Man, who was born in Patterson, and the Robert Louis Stevenson-inspired Mr. Hyde, a villain who was born in Trenton and executed one of his schemes off the coast of Sandy Hook.
Even the New Jersey Palisades, the steep cliffs on the lower end of the Hudson River, make a series of appearances, beginning with one panel in 1963’s Fantastic Four #18, in which an alien Super Skrull reaches from Manhattan to the Palisades to grab a piece of the cliffs.
Two years later, the site housed the villainous Owl’s headquarters, which was described in Daredevil #3: “across the Hudson, perched high above the Palisades cliffs, is one of the strangest residences in the nation.” That same year, the Palisades was also the location of the castle of Count Nefaria in an Avengers issue.
By 2001, according to the Marvel Database, the Fantastic Four were camping in the Pine Barrens in a Jersey Devil tale. Thor and Dr. Strange also visited there.
In 2008, Iron Man returned to South Jersey while battling the Super Skrulls. He made a stop at the Salem Nuclear Power Plant, harnessing its power in order to sufficiently defeat the alien invaders. Maybe his next visit to this area won’t take another 29 years.