“75 Years of Marvel” chronicles comics in American culture.

With today’s multiplexes muscle-bound from too many superheroes, and TV frantic with the antic shuffle of tiny zombie feet, S.H.I.E.L.D. spymasters and more, it’s easy to forget there was a time when mainstream comic books were in genuine conversation with the broader culture, instead of being meekly strip-mined for profit by other media.

From its birth in the 1930s, the comic book, that bastard child of lurid pulps and newspaper strips, has become a kinetic and crowd-pleasing part of the give and take in a cultural stew that includes film and TV, pop music and bubble gum cards, radio and the news of the day. On the cover of Captain America No. 1, for example, which thumped onto newsstands in December 1940, Jack Kirby’s dynamic, star-spangled Cap is shown clocking a cartoonish Hitler — one full year before the United States entered World War II.

Those conversations are apparent in a new, generously illustrated book from Taschen, “75 Years of Marvel: From the Golden Age to the Silver Screen,” written by Roy Thomas, a former Marvel editor and writer, and edited by Josh Baker.

Mr. Thomas, who also edits the comics history magazine Alter Ego, misses the days when funny books were more than livestock on the Hollywood farm. “There is a sense of loss because the tail is now wagging the dog,” he said in a recent telephone interview.

Still, he added: “Comic book characters were always franchises. But nobody cared about them.”

Here are a few multimedia yarns from the days when comic books were more than just fodder.

OPEN THE FLOODGATES Marvel’s founding publisher, Martin Goodman, never met a genre he couldn’t imitate and then inundate. In the 1950s, when Marvel was called Atlas, westerns and war sagas were Hollywood staples. So out on the dusty plains, his herd of titles included Kid Colt Outlaw and Two-Gun Kid, Ringo Kid and Rawhide Kid — and, oh, Black Rider and Gunsmoke Western. On the war front there was Navy Action, Navy Tales and Navy Combat, Combat, Battlefield and Battle Action, and on the all-alliteration squadron Combat Casey and Devil-Dog Dugan.

OOOH, SURFER BOY Comics have always been open to youth trends, and surf culture was one of the most popular of the 1960s — in music, in movies, and as a sports lifestyle. So it was no big shock when the Silver Surfer zipped and zoomed out of the pages of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s “Fantastic Four” in 1965. But instead of catching a wave, Marvel’s Surfer mastered the breakers and swells of the cosmos.

Westerns (Gunsmoke, 1958) and war stories (Navy Action, 1954) were popular; Gorgo was introduced by Charlton Comics in the early 1960s. Credit Marvel/Courtesy Taschen; right, Steve Ditko/Yoe Books

SUBMITTED FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION, STEVE DITKO He’s best known as the co-creator, with Mr. Lee, of the Amazing Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, but Steve Ditko’s deepest gift may have been as an artist of horror and fantasy. Mr. Lee thought enough of his work that in 1961 and ’62 he gave Mr. Ditko free rein in Amazing Adult Fantasy — “The Magazine That Respects Your Intelligence!” — in a sense going toe to toe with Rod Serling’s popular TV show, “The Twilight Zone.” Mr. Ditko filled Amazing Nos. 7 to 14 with claustrophobic fables like “Why Won’t They Believe Me?” and “The Man Who Captured Death,” twist-ending tales of menace and Cold War paranoia. The all-Ditko experiment ended — sales were abysmal — at issue No. 15, with the comic renamed Amazing Fantasy and featuring the debut of Spider-Man. How’s that for an O. Henry ending?

EVEN LICHTENSTEIN RIPPED HIM OFF One of the best-known paintings by the Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein is “Image Duplicator” (circa 1963), a reworking of a Kirby drawing (uncredited) of the X-Men archvillain Magneto. The cartoonist Art Spiegelman once said, “Lichtenstein did no more or less for comics than Andy Warhol did for soup.” Marvel, however, did exact a smidgen of revenge. For a few months in 1965, it called its comics Marvel Pop Art Productions.

SHELLEY TO KARLOFF TO KIRBY You have to knock around the byways of popular culture for nearly 150 years to get from Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, “Frankenstein,” to the debut of Lee and Kirby’s The Incredible Hulk in 1962. Shelley provided the raw material for the 1931 movie and its Boris Karloff monster, which, as made up by Jack Pierce, heavily influenced the Hulk’s look: same broad, brutish forehead; same proto-Beatles haircut.

PRESENTING THE AMAZING ... GORGO?!? Fifty years ago, licensing a Hollywood project to a comics company was the height of multiplatform marketing savvy. So the producers of “Gorgo” (1961) were thrilled to let Charlton Comics in on their reptilian bonanza. “Gorgo” was a poor man’s “Godzilla,” but what interests us here is that Mr. Ditko, ever the hustling freelancer, sometimes drew Gorgo for Charlton — even as he worked on Spider-Man and Dr. Strange for Marvel. (All of Mr. Ditko’s work on Gorgo can be seen in “Ditko Monsters: Gorgo!,” published last year by Yoe Books.) And it can be argued that Mr. Ditko brought at least a scrap of Gorgo’s Grade B DNA to the early Spider-Man: Issue No. 6 features the Lizard, who looks suspiciously like a scaled-down version of our boy Gorgo.

LIVE FROM NEW YORK! IT’S THE HULK! In another vignette from the antediluvian days of cross-marketing, the cast of “Saturday Night Live” appeared in “Marvel Team-Up” No. 74 in 1978, while an “S.N.L.” sketch in early 1979 about a superhero party included Marvel characters like the Thing and Spider-Man. John Belushi can’t hide his glee in playing the Hulk as a rude and rowdy party animal (certainly my favorite incarnation ever of ol’ Greenskin), and Garrett Morris was a perfectly sheepish Ant-Man. (“Check this guy out! He’s got the strength of a human!”) The moral of that sketch: Never use the bathroom after the Hulk has.

Correction: December 14, 2014

An article on Nov. 30 about how mainstream comic books were once in genuine conversation with the broader culture referred incorrectly to the special effects animator Ray Harryhausen. Though Mr. Harryhausen worked with the director Eugène Lourié on the 1953 monster movie “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms,” he did not work with Lourié on his 1961 “Gorgo,” which was licensed to Charlton Comics. Tom Howard provided the special effects for “Gorgo.”