SPOTLIGHT ON

THE THING, KULL & THE HUMAN FLY
INSIDE A
DECEMBER 1977 MARVEL MULTI-MAGS

 

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #34

KULL THE DESTROYER #24

HUMAN FLY #4

 
 


 
By the mid-1970s, Marvel had fully embraced the marketing concept of selling multiple comic books packaged in a sealed plastic bag to a customer base in supermarkets and department store chains which comic books could hardly reach otherwise.

This example of a MARVEL MULTI-MAGS features three titles from the December 1977 cover date run (meaning they were actually on sale in September 1977): Marvel Two-In-One #34, Kull the Destroyer #24, and Human Fly #4. Selling for 89, it was quite a bargain compared to the newsagent total of $1.05 for the same three comic books; earlier in the 1970s comicpacks only sold for 1 less than the total of the cover prices (however, sales tax at the department store checkout would gobble up some of that saving).

There is no general rule to state what shape/grade the comic books in a MARVEL MULTI-MAGS (or any other comic pack for that matter) will be in. During their 40+ years of storage, a lot of things can go wrong. Some of these will only affect the plastic bag, others might not harm the packaging as much as the contents. As a result, almost any combination is possible: you can have a polybag displaying lots of wear but perfect comic books inside (meaning it was mostly stored in a dark and cool place but at some time took some soiling or slight mechanical abrasion), but you can just as well have a near pristine polybag holding comic books showing substantial paper degradation (indicating the bag was stored well but exposed to light and excessive warmth for an extended period of time).

  The polybag of this December 1977 MARVEL MULTI-MAGS is rather clean in comparison to some packagings of the same period, and also shows very little wear - with the very noticeable exception, however, of a large double tear which has exposed, but not really damaged, the side of the three comic books. This indicates some sort of mechanical cause rather than animals (especially rodents) ripping/chewing the polybag open - which is basically good news for the contents.

However, while the three comic books contained in this polybag did not suffer any raw physical damage (such as tears) as a consequence of the plastic being torn, some amount of humidity build-up or light liquid-spillage must have taken place at one point in time which affected the top centre part of the two outer comic books.

As a result, a slight wave on both the covers is visible as well as some slight inside staining on the central top area of the cover and the first page of both Marvel Two-In-One #34 and Human Fly #4. This is however only really visible once the comics are taken out of the polybag. The general rule therefore is: if buying a comicpack is done in the hope of acquiring high grade comic books with no major blemishes, you might want to avoid polybags which already display any visible damage.

 

 
This mid-Bronze Age MARVEL MULTI-MAGS is a fairly standard example - issues of Marvel Two-In-One, the Thing's team-up title, were found regularly and often in MARVEL MULTI-MAGS, and several issues of both Kull the Destroyer and Human Fly can be found throughout Marvel's comicpacks of the mid- to late-1970s. At face value, Marvel Two-In-One was a good choice given that most issues featured episodic done-in-one stories with the revolving door line-up of the Thing's team-up partners - something which wasn't exactly the case with either Kull the Destroyer or the Human Fly. The continuity of the Marvel Universe of the 1970s was such that storylines usually evolved over more than one issue, so that having one single issue of a title would possibly provide for an entertaining read but also most likely end on a cliffhanger - to be resolved in the next issue. Few (if any) titles had permanent slots in the MARVEL MULTI-MAGS, however, so missing out on the continuation of a storyline was highly probable.

However, one needs to also bear in mind that this was a common fate of the average comic book reader in the 1970s Bronze Age, whether his or her comic books came packaged in a plastic bag or as single issues from a display or spinner rack. In those days, an uninterrupted supply of specific titles simply was not guaranteed, and one quickly became quite adept at not feeling too worried over possible gaps in storylines. At least you would usually get a recap of what had happened so far on the first page. It simply was all a part of being a comic book fan in the 1970s - just as the monthly Bullpen Bulletins and in-house advertising were.

 
 
The Bullpen Bulletin for the December 1977 cover date publication cycle was edited by Archie Goodwin and featured the usual ITEM! bullet points while also including Stan Lee's Soapbox, all of which of course were frequently used to plug new titles and products.
 

  In this case, Stan Lee was blowing the trumpet for another upcoming Simon & Schuster book (along the successful lines of Origins of Marvel Comics and Bring on the Bad Guys), this time featuring The Superhero Women. This was followed by another plug for Pizzazz, "a brand new publication for Marvel's younger readers, from ages 8 to 9 to early teens" (as Stan Lee put it); it was also pushed by an additional full page ad on the inside cover of all three titles contained in this MARVEL MULTI-MAGS (Pizzazz ran from 1977 to 1979 for a total of 16 issues, featuring mostly articles about popular movies and rock stars as well as comic strips and puzzles).

"After all the goodies set forth by Stan the Man in his soapbox, can there be any other tidbits with which to tempt, titillate and otherwise tantalize you?" Archie Goodwin asked at the outset of the first ITEM! bullet point, but of course that was only a rhetorical question as he went on to tell readers about a handful of Annuals (Two-In-One, Avengers and Conan) as well as Torpedo's first solo appearance in Marvel Premiere #39, rounded off by mentionings of the House of Idea's softball team and a visit to the Bullpen by Roy Thomas (who had joined the growing number of comic book creators moving out to the West Coast by then) - no longer referred to as "Roy the Boy" (which most likely was Stan Lee's privilege) but "Mr. T".

Two pages were used in all three titles for placing in-house advertisements (which Marvel always used to great advantage to sprinkle a little extra of their incomparable House Style throughout its comic books).

 
One such page devotes one half to the usual subscription and the other half to "two more Giant-Size Summer Specials on sale now" (riding on the tail-end of summer, given that all three comic books in this MARVEL MULTI-MAGS went on sale the first week of September), while the other advertised four of Marvel's magazine-format publications.
 
 

 

 

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #34

December 1977
(monthly)
On Sale: 6 September 1977

Editor - Marv Wolfman
Cover - John Buscema (pencils) & Klaus Janson (inks)

"A Monster Walks Among Us!" (17 pages)
Story - Marv Wolfman
Pencils - Ron Wilson
Inks - Pablo Marcos
Lettering -
Gaspar Saladino (splashpage), Bruce Patterson
Colouring - Sam Kato

Synopsis
! SPOILER ALERT !

Arriving in his England branch as Nighthawk, Kyle Richmond attends a board meeting where he is shown a mysterious rock which seems to contain something. Everybody agrees to have it examined by Dr. Kort (who has just succeeded in freeing Deathlok from a villain named Mentallo's control and turning the cyborg over to S.H.I.E.L.D.).

 
Upon examination of the rock by Dr. Kort an alien creature breaks free and is instantly hounded by people who consider it a menace. However, when a local children's hospital catches fire, the alien monster helps the Thing and Nighthawk save the children trapped inside. In spite of this kind act, the alien creature is shot dead by an ignorant local, leaving Nighthawk and the Thing to ponder the wicked and ignorant ways of the world.
 
Although it is highly doubtful that this was truly the "shocker of the year" (as the cover blurb would have it), Marvel Two-In-One #34 presents a somewhat classic Marvel tale of morals: don't judge people (and aliens) by their appearances. It's a timeless theme, and Marv Wolfman does an okay job with this one, even though the consequences which the trigger-happy father of one of the rescued kids has to face at the end are rather more philosophical than real as Nighthawk simply scolds him: "Monster? You dare call him a monster? He risked his life to save your daughter. And all he was awarded with -- was your abuse -- and finally death! Yeah, there's a monster here -- but who's the monster? Mister, who's the monster?"

Ron Wilson is the artist most associated with the title due to his extended run on pencils, and h's artwork fits in with the story; while it does feature some slick panels, it is mostly what could be called solid average.

   
 
After successfuly trying out the concept of teaming the Thing with a different character for a done-in-one story in each issue of Marvel Feature #11-12 (September and November 1973), Marvel Two-in-One continued that team-up formula as of January 1974. Clocking up a total of 100 issues between then and June 1983 (plus seven Annuals along the way), it was certainly one of Marvel's most successful team-up titles and a fan favourite (and hence also featured a regular letters page). Ideally suited for the comcipack format due to it having a new storyline every issue, it was a common title to be found in featured MARVEL MULTI-MAGS throughout the late 1970s and very early 1980s right up until the demise of Marvel's polybagged three- (and later two-) packs.
 

 

 

KULL THE DESTROYER #24

December 1977
(bi-monthly)
On Sale: 6 September 1977

Editor - Roy Thomas
Cover - Ernie Chan (pencils) & Alfredo Alcala (inks)

"Screams in the Dark!" (17 pages)
Story - Don Glut
Pencils - Ernie Chan
Inks - Dino Castrillo
Lettering - Warren Greenwood
Colouring - Petra Goldberg

Synopsis
! SPOILER ALERT !

As Kull is struggling in the grasp of the Demon-Shade it seems like all is lost, but moments before it is too late the barbarian manages to break free and destroy the outcropping that is causing the shadow to exist. Unfortunately, along with the demon the flower for which Kull was fighting (and which he was told could save the life of fair lady Lorelei) has also died and withered.

 
With nothing else to do he heads back to a certain hunchback’s cottage, to at least avenge her death, but instead finds her alive - and the hunchback (who had previously threatened the lady and tried to coerce her) with a sword in his chest. Finding a map to the nearby city they both take off to rescue Ridondo. After scaling the city walls they chance upon a wizard whom Kull forces to tell them the whereabouts of Ridondo - who, it turns out, is held captive in the dungeon. Racing to free him, Kull discovers a giant snake guarding the prsioner...

As is quite clear from the synopsis, this storyline is continued from the previous issue of Kull the Destroyer (as an editorial asterisk on the splashpage was wanting to indicate, but somehow the textbox with the reference for this got lost...), making this a good example of the problematic aspects of many titles contained in MARVEL MULTI-MAGS already mentioned - you simply got thrown into (and out of) the plot, with characters and their roles more (or less) explained - and no guarantee whatsoever of finding the next issue in a MARVEL MULTI-MAGS.

Kull was created by Robert E. Howard and preceded his popular sword and sorcery hero Conan the Barbarian - in fact, Conan's first appearance was a rewriting of an earlier Kull story (Byrne, 2019).

 
Following Marvel's success with Conan the Barbarian (launched in October 1970 and ultimately running for a total 275 issues until December 1993), Kull was introduced as "King Kull" in Creatures on the Loose #10 (March 1971) before getting his own title, Kull the Conqueror, in June 1971 - although his publishing history at Marvel was far less successful and far more complicated than Conan's. During a hiatus from October 1971 to June 1972 (between issues #2 and #3 of Kull the Conqueror), he featured (again as "King Kull") in Monsters on the Prowl #16 (April 1972). Once the title picked up again, Kull the Conqueror changed its name to Kull the Destroyer as of issue #11 (November 1973) and ran up to issue #29 (October 1978) - but not without yet another publishing hiatus from September 1974 to July 1976, between issues #15 and #16.

Sword and sorcery was one of Marvel's first forays into a genre outside of superheroes and sci-fi-horror as the House of Ideas sought to diversify and expand its market reach at the outset of the 1970s, and it proved a successful one (although thanks mainly to Conan and less so to Kull). Despite the rather chequered publivation history, a number of Kull titles made it into some MARVEL MULTI-MAGS - although nowhere near as many as the sword and sorcery flagship Conan the Barbarian.

 
 
Possibly a reflection of the somewhat stop-and-go publication of the title, Kull the Destroyer #24 featured no letters page. But then the Atlantean king only had five more issues to go before cancellation.
 

 

 

HUMAN FLY #4

December 1977
(monthly)
On Sale:
6 September 1977

Editor -Archie Goodwin
Cover - Sal Buscema (pencils) & Terry Austin (inks)

"Rocky Mountain Nightmare!" (17 pages)

Story - Bill Mantlo
Pencils - Lee Elias
Inks - Rod Santiago
Lettering - Denise Wohl
Colouring - George Roussos

The superhero Human Fly (there was a Spider-Man villain by the same name too) was a somewhat special Marvel character as he was supposedly based on real-life stuntman Rick Rojatt (who actually was but one in a whole row of stuntmen to call himself the "Human Fly" throughout the 20th century).

Consequently, most covers (though not this one) of Human Fly carried the tag line "The Wildest Super-Hero Ever – Because He's Real!"

 
Creator Bill Mantlo turned this basic starting concept into the story of a young man who is severely injured during a car crash but - after a lengthy period of hospitalization and a number of reconstructive surgeries during which much of his skeleton is replaced by steel - takes on a masked identity and calls himself the Human Fly. In this guise, he performs a slew of daredevil stunts (using his enhanced physical abilities (some stemming from his partly metal skeleton) and a number of specialised equipment) to benefit various charities, especially those helping children with disabilities. However, his activities often put him in the way of criminals - who more often than not plan to rob the charity events at which he performs.

It was, to put it kindly, very formulaic and very cheesy even by late 1970s standards, but Marvel pushed Human Fly #1 in September 1977 in a big way with lots and lots of in-house advertising and Bullpen Bulletin shoutouts. Human Fly did manage to clock up a few issues before cancellation, which hit after Human Fly #19 (March 1979).

   
 
According to Jim Shooter, the concept was thrust upon editorial staff by "someone upstairs":

"Probably someone in our licensing department met the Fly's licensing folks at a trade show and convinced the president of the company [i.e. Marvel] that it was a good idea - without consulting us." (Aushenker, 2007)

Issues of Human Fly appeared in MARVEL MULTI-MAGS quite often and regularly, and judging from the letters printed in the issue contained in this December 1977 Multi-Mag, the character did enjoy some initial popularity amongst readers. From a retrospective (and more adult) perspective, however, far too many aspects of Bill Mantlo's character concept don't really work (Calamity, 2007).

PS. There's a 1976 CBC portrait of "philanthropic daredevil" Rojatt wearing his "Human Fly" outfit and explaining his plans and motivation on youtube.

 

 
No 1970's Marvel comic book was, of course, without third party advertising, some of which was "okay" (mostly if it featured Marvel characters) and some of which was, well, something else (such as the infamous flea market ads promising anything and everything). All three titles included in this December 1977 Multi-Mag carried exactly the same ads, illustrated here, and it is interesting to note that by 1977 more and more outlets selling comic book back issues advertised in these pages.
 
 

 
BIBLIOGRAPHY

AUSHENKER Michael (2007) "The Human Fly: Pretty Fly for a Real Guy", in Back Issue #20

BYRNE Bob (2019) "Hither Came Conan: Ruminations of "The Phoenix on the Sword", published online for Black Gate, 22 January 2019

CALAMITY Jon (2007) "Classic Gone-And-Forgotten: The Human Fly". published online for Ape Law, 13 October 2007 (via archive.org)

 

 


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uploaded to the web 1 August 2020