SPOTLIGHT ON

SPIDER-MAN, DOCTOR STRANGE & THOR
INSIDE A
JUNE 1978 MARVEL MULTI-MAGS

 

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #181

DOCTOR STRANGE #29

MIGHTY THOR #272

 
 

 

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

This example of a MARVEL MULTI-MAGS features three titles from the June 1978 cover date run (meaning they were actually on sale in March 1978): Amazing Spider-Man #181, Doctor Strange #29 (the "hidden" comic book in the middle of the pack), and Mighty Thor #272. Both Spider-Man and Thor could be found regularly in MARVEL MULTI-MAGS of the mid to late 1970s; the presence of an issue of Doctor Strange, however, is a rarity.

Selling for 99, this comicpack came with a small 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 most if not all of that saving.

There is no general rule as to 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, while 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 outside 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 with care but exposed to light and excessive warmth for an extended period of time).

The polybag of this June 1978 MARVEL MULTI-MAGS is very clean in comparison to some packagings of the same period and also shows no discernible wear. The same holds true for the three comic books inside which proved to be in excellent overall condition: pristine covers with perfect gloss and shine, perfectly flat and tight (without any spine stress), with no creases and sharp edges, and white to off-white pages throughout all of the books.

 

 
Compared to the comic book three-packs put out by DC in the 1970s, MARVEL MULTI-MAGS - not unlike the superheroes they featured - had a distinct flaw. 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. No titles had permanent slots in the MARVEL MULTI-MAGS, however, so missing out on the continuation of a storyline was a possibility with some titles (e.g. Amazing Spider-Man and Mighty Thor) and all but certain with others (e.g. Doctor Strange).

However, one needs to also bear in mind that this was a common fate of the average comic book reader in the 1970s, 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. Besides, 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 Marvel's monthly Bullpen Bulletins and in-house advertising were.

In this case, Stan Lee was casually plugging a few new titles and characters (and name-dropping the fact that he got invited to college campuses) while adressing the question (if it actually was one) why Marvel kept putting out new titles and characters. It's the wonderful mix of deliberately open self-advertising, mock self-criticism ("How come Marvel is always bringing out new titles when you guys have so much trouble producing the old ones on time?") and avuncular self-humoring ("But fear thee not, O Faithful One! Let not a single wrinkle of apprehension furrow thy noble brow!") - all of which adds up to the famous Marvel House Style.

Readers were also informed of the sudden and unexpected death of John Verpoorten at the age of 37. Originally working as an inker for Marvel, Verpoorten became their production manager in 1970, and some say that this high-stress job contributed to his early passing.

And, finally, the still growing popularity of Sci-Fi in 1978 was mirrored by Marvel's official adaptation of Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind as a "Super Special".

 
Also of note, by the way, is the Bullpen Bulletin title, which lists a whole slew of creative talent in various production and editorial functions - such as Jack Kirby having the role of consulting editor.
 

 

 

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #181

June 1978
(monthly)
On Sale: 14 March 1978

Editor - Marv Wolfman
Cover - Gil Kane & John Romita (pencils), Mike Esposito (inks)

"Flashback!" (17 pages)
Story - Bill Mantlo
Pencils - Sal Buscema (breakdowns), Mike Esposito (finished art)
Inks - Mike Esposito
Lettering - Annette Kawecki
Colouring -
Glynis Wein

Synopsis
! SPOILER ALERT !

Visiting the grave of his Uncle Ben, Spider-Man thinks back and reflects on his entire career as Spider-Man. He recalls the events that gave him his spider-powers and how the death of his Uncle Ben acted as the catalyst for him to actually become Spider-Man.

 
He also reflects on his first encounter with the Fantastic Four and remembers J. Jonah Jameson (and his constant anti-Spider-Man campaigns in the Daily Bugle along with his multiple attempts to send super-powered beings or high tech machines after him), Flash Thompson, Betty Brant and the Stacys.
 
He also remembers tragic events (George Stacy losing his life at the hands of Dr. Octopus and Gwen Stacy murdered by the Green Goblin) and dramatic individual fates (Curt Connor's struggles as the Lizard, Frederick Foswell's stint as the Big Man, John Jameson turning into the Man-Wolf, Michael Morbius being cursed as a living vampire, and Harry Osborn's descent into madness as the second Green Goblin), as well as all the villains Spider-Man has fought over the years. He also reflects on his allies (the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, the Prowler, even the Punisher), his friends, and his new love, Mary Jane.

Spider-Man's recollection ends as he watches his Aunt May place some flowers on Ben's grave. After she has left, Spider-Man himself pays his respects, leaving the microscope which Uncle Ben gave him years ago at the grave.

   
 
Later on, a member of the cemetery staff happens to notice the microscope and decides to take it home for his son.
 
Preceding this issue, Len Wein had just completed a lengthy run on Amazing Spider-Man (#150-180), and before Marv Wolfman took over the reigns for a run which would cover Amazing Spider-Man #182-204, Wolfman in his role as editor inserted a Bill Mantlo/Sal Buscema fill-in issue to separate the two runs.

The resulting Amazing Spider-Man #181 is an almost plotless issue that simply recaps key events and showcases Spider-Man's villains and supporting characters. Dedicated "to our older fans who lived these events with us -- and to our new fans discovering the Spider-Man legend for the first time!" this collage of Spidey's history is a strangely fascinating reference book for newer fans (at the time) and a nostalgic caleidoscope pastiche for the more seasoned ones, referencing:

  • Amazing Fantasy #15 (Spider-Man's origin)
  • Amazing Spider-Man #1 (Spider-Man tries to join the Fantastic Four)
  • Amazing Spider-Man #2 (Peter Parker signs on with J. Jonah Jameson's Daily Bugle)
  • Amazing Spider-Man #5 (Flash Thompson kidnapped by Dr. Doom)
  • Amazing Spider-Man #6 (first appearance of the Lizard)
  • Amazing Spider-Man #7 and Amazing Spider-Man #30 (beginning and end of Peter's relationship with Betty Brant)
  • Amazing Spider-Man #10 (first appearance of Fredrick Foswell as Big Man, his death in Amazing Spider-Man #52 and his daughter following in her father's footsteps and her death in Marvel Team-Up #40)
  • Various attacks on Spider-Man instigated by Jameson (the Scorpion in Amazing Spider-Man #20, the first Spider-Slayer in Amazing Spider-Man #25, Luke Cage in Amazing Spider-Man #123, the Fly in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #10, and more Spider-Slayers in Amazing Spider-Man #58, Amazing Spider-Man #105, and Amazing Spider-Man #169)
  • Amazing Spider-Man #90 (Captain Stacy's death)
  • Amazing Spider-Man #100-102 (Michael Morbius turns into Morbius the Living Vampire)
  • Amazing Spider-Man #122 (Gwen Stacy's death)
  • Amazing Spider-Man #124 (Colonel John Jameson becomes the Man-Wolf)
  • Amazing Spider-Man #136 (Harry Osborn became the Green Goblin)

Given Spider-Man's selling power it is no wonder that his titles (Amazing, Spectacular and Marvel Team-Up) were regularly featured in 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), but this issue is definitely different. While some may find it boring due to the fact that there is actually no really coherent story as such, I know that Amazing Spider-Man #181 would have thrilled me to no end back in the days, given the extensive rogue gallery it features - and it still does. This is partly also due to the fact that the Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito artwork does a good job of presenting visuals which have a somewhat classic feel to them.

 

 

 

DOCTOR STRANGE #29

June 1978
(bi-monthly)
On Sale:
14 March 1978

Editor - Archie Goodwin
Cover - Frank Brunner

"He Who Stalks!" (17 pages)
Story - Roger Stern
Pencils - Tom Sutton
Inks - Ernie Chan
Lettering - Annette Kawiecki
Colouring - Petra Goldberg

Synopsis
! SPOILER ALERT !

While recuperating from his battle with the In-Betweener (Doctor Strange #27-28), Dr. Strange is called upon by Yellowjacket who informs him that the Black Knight statue has been stolen from his Sanctum Sanctorum and then destroyed. The Sorcerer Supreme has, however, no time to reflect on this as Nighthawk approaches him for help in solving a mysterious haunting taking place at a Richmond Enterprises research lab.

 
Doctor Strange and Nighthawk soon discover that the reason for these occurrences is the villain Death-Stalker, appearing on Earth from the Limbo he is trapped in. His plan is to steal a new prototype Proto-Converter being developed at the lab and using this to free himself. In the ensuing confrontation with Doctor Strange and Nighthawk, Death-Stalker is defeated when a blast from the Proto-Converter is redirected back at him through the mystical Eye of Agamotto.
 
The available data on the contents of MARVEL MULTI-MAGS is somewhat sketchy, but in the fold of 130+ known Marvel comicpacks from 1973 to 1983 this is only one of two occasions where a copy of Doctor Strange was carried (the other one being the previous issue, Doctor Strange #28, in an April 1978 MARVEL MULTI-MAGS which also featured Thor #270 and Ms Marvel #16).

Comic book fans who depended on MARVEL MULTI-MAGS would therefore see very little of and know even less about Doctor Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme - such as the fact that Doctor Strange #27 was only Roger Stern's third issue of writing the good doctor. His first run spanned Doctor Strange #27 (February 1978) to #37 (October 1979), but Stern would later return for a longer (and acclaimed) run starting with Doctor Strange #46 (April 1981) and ending with issue #75 (February 1986).

   
 
Stern's writing on Doctor Strange (including Doctor Strange #29) has often been praised as having been ahead of its time, and his stories establish the sorcerer as often being called upon by his peers from the superhero fold to help solve problems which can't just be contained by physical powers (as is the case in Doctor Strange #29). The resulting stories make for some interesting reading with a lot of "flow" to them. Tom Sutton's pencils add a lot of atmosphere and a style all of his own, harking back in some ways to the classic 1960s and early 1970s Doctor Strange artwork by Steve Ditko and Gene Colan.

Still, Doctor Strange #29 remains something of an odd-ball in the context of the late 1970s MARVEL MULTI-MAGS, and it could well be that quite a few buyers or recipients of this specific comicpack didn't much care for Doctor Strange #29 at the time.

If, however, you should be interested in reading a bit about another example of Roger Stern's run on Doctor Strange, you can do so here.

 

 

 

MIGHTY THOR #272

June 1978
(monthly)
On Sale: 14 March 1978

Editor -Jim Shooter, Len Wein
Cover - John Buscema

"The Day The Thunder Failed!" (17 pages)

Story - Roy Thomas
Pencils -
John Buscema (breakdowns); Tom Palmer (finished art)
Inks -
Tom Palmer
Lettering - Joe Rosen
Colouring - George Roussos

Synopsis
! SPOILER ALERT !

Thor tells a group of children about his own youth and an occasion when he and Loki were challenged by Utgard, Master of Utgartdhall in Jotunheim - the Land of the Giants - to a series of contests

 
Loki first faces Logi in an eating contest but stands no chance as his opponent devours not only the food but the plates and table as well. Next, Loki is challenged to a footrace by Hugi, but loses before he even makes his first step. Then Thor accepts the challenge to empty a drinking horn but finds that everytime he stops drinking the horn is just as full as when he started. In the next challenge, Thor is to lift a cat off the ground but can barely get one of its paws up. In the final challenge Thor has to best an old woman, Elli, in a contest, but again fails completely.

It is at that point that Utgard reveals to the two brothers that they have been tricked by a spell of confusion: Logi is really fire, Hugi is really thought, Elli is really the personification of old age, and the cat was in reality Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent.

   
 
Thor #272 starts a new run of Roy Thomas scripts and John Buscema artwork (following the previous run by Len Wein and Walt Simonson), and Thomas borrows from actual Norse lore for a start: the contests faced by Thor and Loki are taken from chapter 44 of the tale of Gylfaginning (which is Old Norse for "The Deluding of Gylfi"), the first part of Snorri Sturluson's 13th century Prose Edda (Lindow, 2002) - the original Norse version is summarized on a Wikipedia page.
 

  It is certainly a nice touch and corroborates the enthusiasm which Roy Thomas conveys on the letters page (which he uses to pen a "Nordic note from ye new writer/editor") for Marvel's Thor.

Thomas of course had a lot of clout with readers, who knew that they could expect solid if not excellent work, and Marvel certainly had a field day with it: while in-house ads proclaimed the Thomas/Buscema team-up as a promise for "A New World of Asgardian Enchantment!", the cover blurbs on Thor #272 went even further:

 
"Now Begins Wonder without End!" and "The Thunder God's Greatest Triumph -- or Tragedy Beyond Compare!" left only one conclusion: "You Must Read -- The Day The Thunder Failed!". It was Stan Lee's hyperbole times two, but as Roy Thomas said at the end of his note to readers: "As Odin or somebody used to say: 'Nuff Said!" - there simply was no way of arguing with it.

Issues of Thor appeared in MARVEL MULTI-MAGS often and regularly, and Thor #272 is definitely a gem. The adaptation of an actual slice of Norse mythology is handled really well by Thomas, and Buscmea's artwork really lets it fly. On the whole, this issue is something of a throwback to earlier issues of Journey Into Mystery and Thor (which Roy Thomas also refers to in his "Nordic note"), when Thor was less of a composed and noble but rather a blustery and self-centered Thunder God who required humbling every now and then - which, of course, is what the contest at Jotunheim is all about.

The John Buscema cover of this issue, by the way, has such a classic look and feel about it that it is hardly surprising that it can be seen quite often on posters, t-shirts and other items.

 

 
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).
 

  The three titles included in this June 1978 Multi-Mag carried different ads, illustrated here, and it is interesting to note that by 1978 more and more outlets selling comic book back issues advertised in these pages (as well as an increasing number of Star Wars related merchandise). Interestingly enough, the Hostess Twinkies ad featuring Thor appeared in both Amazing Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, but not in Thor (where an ad for Hostess Fruit Pies featured the Hulk).

The Bullpen Bulletin page also featured a plug for the 1978 live-action TV shows featuring Spider-Man and the Hulk. Who could have imagined back then that one day they would even rule the silver screen...

 
 

 
BIBLIOGRAPHY

LINDOW John (2002) Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals and Beliefs, Oxford University Press

 

 


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uploaded to the web 1 October 2020