SPOTLIGHT ON

CAPTAIN AMERICA, GHOST RIDER & THE ETERNALS
INSIDE A
DECEMBER 1977 MARVEL MULTI-MAGS

 

CAPTAIN AMERICA #216

GHOST RIDER #27

ETERNALS #18

 
 


 
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): Captain America #216, Ghost Rider #27, and Eternals #18.

Selling for 99¢ it provides an interesting comparison to another December 1977 MARVEL MULTI-MAGS (which we shall call Multi-Mags 77-12A).

Although both contained three titles priced at 35¢ each, the MARVEL MULTI-MAGS shown here (let's call it Multi-Mags 77-12B) sold for the aforementioned 99¢, whereas 77-12A sold for 89¢. Evidently, there was a 10¢ increase between the two, which can even be narrowed down to one week: Multi-Mags 77-12A contained three titles that went on sale September 6th 1977, whereas Multi-Mags 77-12B contained three titles that went on sale 13th September 1977.

Between June and October 1977, Marvel experimented with a 5¢ price increase (from 30¢ to 35¢), which came into final effect with the November 1977 cover date run. Marvel accordingly also adjusted the price of its MARVEL MULTI-MAGS (the last time this happened was between July and August 1976, when the price went up from "3 for 74¢" to "3 for 89¢", also following an increase of an individual issue's price from 25¢ to 30¢, reducing the bargain compared to the newsagent total of $1.05 for the same three comic books (sales tax at the department store checkout would gobble up that saving even further). At least it was still more than buyers could expect in the early 1970s, when comicpacks only sold for 1¢ less than the total of the cover prices.

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 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, maintaining sharp edges and off-white pages.

One aspect strongly in evidence throughout all of the three issues, however, is the "dirty" printing found every now and then in 1970s comic books. As the print run neared its target number of copies, it often started to produce smudges and streaks, which were only made worse by the cheap newsprint paper. In addition, the stapling wasn't always properly centreed either in those days; the staples of the copy of Eternals #18 are slightly off-centre in this case but - much more importantly -pristine.

 

 
Issues of Captain America were to be found fairly regularly in MARVEL MULTI-MAGS, and several issues of Jack Kirby's Eternals can be found throughout Marvel's comicpacks of the mid- to late-1970s. The title standing out a bit in this case is Ghost Rider, who only made very rare appearances in the MARVEL MULTI-MAGS - possibly considered one of the less "kids (and therefore parents/grandparents) friendly" titles.
 
But no matter the frequency - no titles had permanent slots in the MARVEL MULTI-MAGS, so missing out on the continuation of a storyline was a possibility with some titles (e.g. Captain America and Eternals) and all but certain with others (e.g. Ghost Rider). On top of this, 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.

This didn't exactly make the MULTI-MAGS an ideal way of getting your Marvel comic book fix. However, one needs to 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. Back in those days, an uninterrupted supply of specific titles simply was not guaranteed. Not worrying too much about possible gaps in storylines became something of a routine - besides, you would usually get a recap of what had happened so far on the first page. So all in all it simply was a part of being a comic book fan in the 1970s - just as the monthly Bullpen Bulletins and the 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 mentions 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).

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 second week of September), while the other advertised four of Marvel's magazine-format publications.
 
 

 

 

CAPTAIN AMERICA #216

December 1977
(monthly)
On Sale: 13 September 1977

Editor - Roy Thomas
Cover - Gil Kane (pencils) & Ernie Chan(inks)

"The Human Torch meets... 'Captain America'!" (18 pages)
Story - Stan Lee
Pencils - Jack Kirby
Inks - Dick Ayers
Lettering - Sam Rosen

Reprinted from Strange Tales #114 (November 1963)

Synopsis
! SPOILER ALERT !

Johnny Storm attends an antique car show since it boasts an appearance of Captain America and he doesn't want to miss seeing his childhood idle. When thieves try to rob the organizers he foils their plans as the Human Torch, together with Captain America. However, Cap is acting strangely, and later that night we witness him springing the crooks out of jail.

 
The Torch learns that Captain America was behind the whole thing all the time, and - after a chase across town - unmasks him as not being Cap at all but rather the Torch's old foe the Acrobat. Once all is put to rest, Johnny wonders what became of the real Captain America.
 
Apart from a new splash page (scripted by Roy Thomas, pencilled by Dave Cockrum, inked by Frank Giacoia and lettered byIrv Watanabe) which serves to introduce and frame the story, Captain America #216 is entirely made up of reprint material from Strange Tales #114 (November 1963).

Although significant in terms of comic book history (this was the first appearance of "Captain America" - albeit an impostor - since the Golden Age and somewhat paved the way for Stan Lee bringing him back into the fold of Marvel's 1960s superheroes a few months later in Avengers #4, March 1964), not all readers at the time may have appreciated this dip into the past.

If that were so, then it was probably somewhat linked to the fact that these blasts from the past had started to appear rather often and regularly.

   
 
Marvel would often refer to the phenomenon as the "deadline doom". In somewhat more prosaic terms, Marvel was quite simply overextending its creative staff by putting out more and more material, and the bottom line was that the slightest incident could derail the material needed for a title's next issue from getting to the printers in Sparta, Illinois, on time.
 
  The first such incident concerned the April 1969 cover date issue of Dr Strange #179 because artist Gene Colan had caught the flu and no replacement was on hand (Stan Lee actually shared this piece of information), but by the mid-1970s missing deadlines became a frequent problem - so much so that it was often glossed over by trumpeting the reprint material as a special treat of sorts.

Comparing the original from Strange Tales #114 to the reprint in Captain America #216 reveals that only few alterations were made. One point which did receive the attention of whoever oversaw this issue was changing Cap's tights from the original red to the now canonical blue.

Attention to detail wasn't always a strong point of "deadline doom" inserts, but in this case it was actually present.

Also of note is the little notice in the final panel, missing from the reprint for obvious reasons, where Stan Lee is asking readers about their views on bringing back Cap. Well, that question had of course been well and truly answered by the time Captain America #216 hit news stands and MARVEL MULTI-MAGS.

 
Ultimately it's hard to say if readers were okay with Kirby's rather old school Cap in comparison to Cockrum's imposing rendition on the splash page or not. In any case there would always be another issue of Captain America in another MARVEL MULTI-MAGS.
 
 

 

 

GHOST RIDER #27

December 1977
(bi-monthly)
On Sale: 13 September 1977

Editor - Archie Goodwin
Cover - Ron Wilson (pencils) & Frank Giacoia (inks)

"At the Mercy of the Manticore!" (17 pages)
Story - Jim Shooter
Pencils - Don Perlin
Inks - Dan Green
Lettering - Francoise Mouly
Colouring - Denise Wohl

Synopsis
! SPOILER ALERT !

Johnny Blaze a.k.a. the Ghost Rider is on the road fleeing from his old life when his bike starts to act up. He pulls into a ranch for repairs where he meets up with Hawkeye and Two-Gun Kid just in time to help battle the Manticore. The villain's identity is (and remains) unclear, but he seems intent on retrieving the Hellcat costume, as used by Patsy Walker, for the Brand Corporation (whose creation the Manticore appears to be).

 
The Manticore had been spying on Clint Barton a.k.a. Hawkeye and the Two-Gun Kid at the ranch they were both working at, but didn't bank on the Ghost Rider making an appearance, saving the Two-Gun Kid from being decapitated by Manticore, who is ultimately brought down by one of Hawkeye's well-aimed arrows.
 
Jim Shooter's story ultimately coughs up more guest stars (two) than thrills, and Don Perlin's artwork is either spot on or terribly off throughout the entire issue, but in the end the Ghost Rider is one of those Marvel characters which are so strong and have such a conceptual and visual quality that they can somehow carry even the most uneventful and mediocre plots. In this case, neither the plot nor the villain create any real interest, and at times both even get dangerously close to being totally cheesy and even utterly ridiculous - which is somewhat surprising given that the Manticore is a legendary Persian creature (not unlike the Egyptian sphinx) with the head of a human and the body of a lion, sporting a tail of venomous spines.

Branded as the most supernatural superhero of all, Marvel launched the Ghost Rider in Marvel Spotlight #5 (a tryout title which had previously already proven a successful launchpad for the Werewolf by Night series) in August 1972. Johnny Blaze, a motorcycle stunt performer in a travelling circus, sold his soul to what he believed to be the devil in order to save the life of his stepfather - transforming, as a result, into a leather-clad skeleton with a skull cloaked in a sheath of flame, riding a fiery motorcycle and wielding blasts of hellfire from his skeletal hands.

 
 
  The Ghost Rider's first drive around the block was supervised by editor Roy Thomas, writer Gary Friedrich and artist Mike Ploog - with the original authorship of the character remaining a matter of dispute (but claimed by Gary Friedrich who took Marvel to court on the matter).

Featuring in two big budget movies in 2007 and 2012 starring Nicholas Cage (a comic book fan himself), the Ghost Rider hardly ever appeared in MARVEL MULTI-MAGS.

 
 

 

 

ETERNALS #18

December 1977
(monthly)
On Sale:
13 September 1977

Editor -Jack Kirby & Archie Goodwin
Cover -
Jack Kirby(pencils) & Frank Giacoia(inks)

"To Kill a Space God" (17 pages)

Story - Jack Kirby
Pencils -
Jack Kirby
Inks -
Mike Royer
Lettering -
Glynis Wein
Colouring -
Mike Royer

Synopsis
! SPOILER ALERT !

Ikaris' evil cousin, Druig, searches for the means to destroy a Celestial and he learns that the secret lies within Ikaris.

Druig captures Ikaris and uses a Nerve Beast to wrestle the secret from Ikaris' mind. The weapon, which can destroy a Celestial, lies within the Pyramid of the Winds.

 
This is the second to last issue of Eternals; the series would be cancelled after issue #19 (January 1978). In order to understand the Eternals, one needs to understand the enormous amount of Jack Kirby's personal and professional history tied into it.

Kirby left Marvel Comics in 1970 for DC Comics, increasingly angered by what he perceived to be an intentional and continuous denial of credit for his share in creating much of the Marvel Universe. He had enough of it, and DC promised him not only full credit but also full artistic freedom. The result was Kirby's "Fourth World" metaseries, a blend of classic mythology and science fiction. For some it was the ultimate comic book saga, stretching across titles such as New Gods, Forever People and Mister Miracle; for others it was too convoluted and confusing, and they seemed to be in the majority, as Kirby's work didn't sell near as well as DC needed it to - including more traditional fare such as Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen (which, however, "the King" used as a launch pad for many of his Fourth World concepts in order to give them greater exposure to potential buyers), a title he worked on until April 1972.

"The sales of the Kirby issues plummeted and we hastened to revert to our traditional artists." (Carmine Infantino, in Stump, 1996)

As the number of cancellations of Fourth World titles grew, so did Kirby's disappointment with DC, and after the axe came down on Mister Miracle in late 1973, he wasn't even sure he would sit out his contract. In the end he did, and so it wasn't until Spring 1975 that Jack Kirby once again started to work for Marvel. In return for this industry scoop, "the King" essentially just wanted to be left alone to write and edit his own stories with no co-plotters or tie-ins with other titles done by other people. Captain America and the Black Panther were the only Marvel characters (co-created by himself) that Kirby agreed to return to, and he kept them deliberately detached from Marvel continuity - which felt increasingly weird to many Marvel fans (Gartland & Morrow, 2013).

 
In terms of new concepts, Kirby then started working on The Eternals, which was thematically similar to his DC New Gods but actually took its core inspiration from Swiss author Erich von Däniken's Chariots of the Gods which made the both fascinating and controversial claim that Earth had been visited by aliens in the past and that evidence of this could be found in artefacts and the mythologies of ancient civilizations.

Working on this premise, Kirby postulates such an alien visit in our prehistoric past. Through genetic experimentations these "Celestials" create three distinct species: Earth's humans, the "Deviants" (whose genes are so unstable that every one of them is grotesquely different and they all have lived on the bottom of the ocean for centuries), and the "Eternals" (undying and beautiful humanoids with superhuman mental gifts).

   
 
It was once again a typically high-flying Kirby concept, accompanied by artwork of complex machinery, but at least to start with it seemed to work well enough. Ultimately, however, his work came across as being too detached from what the average reader would expect. And since Marvel Comics had always been about finding "the formula that sells", this became a problem, aggravated by the fact that by that time Kirby was living and working in California and the Marvel offices were in New York. Communication was slow, and it seems that opinions on Kirby's work started to drift to extremes - some still admired it, while others simply couldn't stand it (Gartland & Morrow, 2013).

Kirby was told to link the Eternals to the Marvel Universe, which he did (although explaining the presence of the Hulk as an instance of an android robot, allowing him to still keep things somewhat apart), but an increasing amount of corrections of dialogue made in NYC (with Kirby only finding out when he saw the printed copies) made the situation more and more difficult. More and more negative letters from readers were received (and published). Gartland & Morrow (2013) claim that this was to a degree fabricated by people inside Marvel wanting to bully Kirby out, while Howe (2012) quotes an unnamed Marvel staffer who snuck self-penned positive letters into Kirby's Captain America issues to try and counter-balance all the negative feedback pouring in.

The entire atmosphere at Marvel had changed, and the growing number of individuals involved seemingly all had their own private agendas to pursue (Howe, 2012). When Kirby's contract came up for renewal in April 1978, Stan Lee made it clear that he only wanted Kirby's artwork and no more of his scripting. Not surprisingly, Kirby left after only three years at Marvel (during which he also worked on titles such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Machine Man and Devil Dinosaur) and went to work for the animation industry, never to return to Marvel again.

It is probably fair to say that all of Kirby's 1970s work is something of an acquired taste, but the Eternals are comparatively accessible and make for entertaining reading most of the time (which may also explain why they are slated to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe in November 2021). In terms of MARVEL MULTI-MAGS, copies of the Eternals appeared frequently, and although the actual evidence continues to present some holes in the data, the MULTI-MAGS may even have carried a complete and full run of all 19 issues.

 
 

 
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 almost exactly the same ads, some of which are illustrated here.
 

 
 

 

 
BIBLIOGRAPHY

GARTLAND Mike & John Morrow (2013) "You can't go home again - Kirby's 1970s return to the "snake pit" of Marvel Comics", in Jack Kirby Collector #29

HOWE Sean (2012) Marvel Comics - The Untold Story, Harper Collins

STUMP Greg (1996) “Infantino Raises Questions About CBG Letters Policy Following Kirby Controversy Flare-Up”, in The Comics Journal #191 (November 1996)

 

 


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uploaded to the web 8 March 2021