CONAN, MORBIUS & THE AVENGERS

BACK TO BACK IN A

AUGUST 1975 MARVEL MULTI-MAGS

 

 
 

 
MARVEL
MULTI-MAGS
  Even in the early 1960s, the comic book industry realized that in spite of the hugely successful comeback of the superhero genre (which had been clinically dead for most of the 1950s) and the subsequent streak of new creativity and enthusiasm it generated, its traditional sales points were fading away. Small stores that had carried comic books were pushed out of business by larger stores and supermarkets, and newsagents started to view the low cover prices and therefore tiny profit margins comics had to offer as a nuisance.

Many ideas on how to turn these developments around were put forward by different publishers, but the most successful concepts strived to open up new sales opportunities and markets and thus tap into a new customer base.

 
One place these potential buyers could be found was the growing number of supermarkets and chain stores. But in order to be able to sell comic books at supermarkets, the product would have to be adjusted.
 
Handling individual issues clearly was no option for these outlets, but by looking at their logistics and display characteristics, DC Comics (who came up with the Comicpac concept in 1961) found that the answer to breaking into this promising new market was to simply package several comic books together in a transparent plastic bag. This resulted in a higher price per unit on sale, which made the whole business of stocking them much more worthwhile for the seller. The simple packaging was also rather nifty because it clearly showed the items were new and untouched, while at the same time blending in with most other goods sold at supermarkets which were also conveniently packaged.  
 
Outlets were even supplied with dedicated Comicpac racks, which enhanced the product appeal even more since the bags containing the comic books could be displayed on rack hooks in an orderly and neat fashion.
 

  DC's "comicpacks" were a success - so much so that other publishers quickly started to copy it. Marvel produced a series of Marvel Multi-Mags in 1968/69 but then seems to have dropped the idea again.

However, by the mid-1970s, the House of Ideas had once again 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: people shopping at supermarkets and large grocery stores.

It didn't really matter therefore that buying these three comic books in a comicpack for say 89 (rather than from a newsagent for 90 in that case) clearly presented no real bargain - it was the opportunity and convenience to pick up a few comics at the same time parents and adults did their general shopping. Neatly packaged, it almost became an entirely different class of commodity.

 

 
The MARVEL MULTI-MAGS we are looking at here features Conan #53, Fear #29, and Avengers #138, all from the August 1975 cover date run. This meant that they were actually on sale at newsagents in May 1975, although there could be quite a delay in terms of actual availability of MARVEL MULTI-MAGS at some sales points, resulting in Multi-Mags on display that contained "semi-recent books (typically about nine months old)" (Brevoort, 2007). Considering the packaging and distribution process, this doesn't really seem too surprising.

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; after all, a lot of things can go wrong during their 40+ years of storage. Some of these potential mishaps will only affect the plastic bag, as in the case of this example. There is noticeable (and somewhat typical) wear in the form of slight mechanical abrasion, some dulling of the plastic, and colour ink transfer from when the label was turned back onto the bag during some time of storage. None of this, however, affected the comic books inside.

 
No titles had permanent slots in the MARVEL MULTI-MAGS. There were some reliably regular ones (such as the Avengers from this example), some that showed up every now and then (e.g. Conan), and others that only ever featured once or twice throughout the existence of MULTI-MAGS (e.g. Fear). But even with the fairly regular titles (other examples were Hulk, Thor, Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man) there was never any guarantee of an uninterrupted flow of consecutive issues - and therefore a distinct possibility of missing out on a part of the storyline. On top of this, the continuity of the Marvel Universe of the 1970s was such that plots and storylines usually evolved over more than one 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 was, quite simply, not guaranteed. Not worrying too much about possible gaps in storylines thus became something of a routine - besides, you would usually get a recap of "what 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 - as were the monthly Bullpen Bulletins (which were the responsibility of the editor-in-chief) and the in-house advertising (often with mouth watering cover reproductions).

 
 
In August 1975, the Bullpen Bulletin was still on its way through the alphabet as far as its title was concerned, arriving at the letter E - which resulted in the typically alliterative and somewhat nonsensical title "An Endearing Ensemble of Editorial Errata for your Enjoyment, Edification, and Enlightenment!".

The headline item of Stan Lee's Soapbox column was the planned sequel to the massively successful Origins of Marvel Comics. Besides musings as to the title of said book, Stan "the Man" also managed to mention that he had been invited to talk at five colleges on five consecutive days. All of this exposure to academia did not, however, prevent Lee from misspelling Monty Python as "Monte", along with an obvious typo ("in case you've wondering") in the last sentence of his ramblings...

 



In-house ad from Conan #53

As for the actual Bullpen Bulletins' various ITEM! bullet points, they were - as usual - mostly concerned with new and changing assignments of various writers, artists, and editors (such as Archie Goodwin now overseeing Marvel's range of black and white magazines).

 
A big push was also given to the up and coming adaptation of The Wizard of Oz - an unlikely subject matter for the House of Ideas, but one that readers would be hearing a lot about over the next few months.

There weren't too many in-house ads that month, but the full-page plug for the Hulk Treasury Edition #5 certainly was an attention grabber. Also vying for the attention of readers were the "promo lines" at the bottom of the story pages; a somewhat more subtle but often highly intriguing way of plugging other titles.

 


Promo line from Avengers #138, page 6

 
Not surprisingly, this way of turning otherwise empty space into small advertising billboards was Stan Lee's brainchild, who first made use of them way back in 1962 but then dropped the idea again until he asked Roy Thomas to do something along those lines in the early 1970s (Cronin, 2019).
 
Thomas obliged for a while and then handed the task on to others before it ended up being Scott Edelman's job as of around 1974.

"I don’t remember exactly how or when the task was handed over to me - I assume it had to have been Len [Wein] who gave me the assignment - but I would interview the writers about what they had planned and create catchy write-ups, the same way I wrote the Bullpen Bulletins pages (save for Stan’s Soapbox), the copy which appeared on top of the splash page of comics, and other promotional materials." (Scott Edelman in Cronin, 2019)

These promo lines were a small but intriguing part of the fun of reading Marvel comic books at the time, since they would quite often mention characters or titles you had never heard of before, not unlike the Bullpen Bulletins and the Mighty Marvel Checklist.

 


Scott Edelman

 
The comic books contained in this specific MULTI-MAGS fall squarely into the high tide of the "bottom of the page promo line" era (the complete promo lines they feature are listed in the descriptions of the three titles, below).
 
 

 

 

CONAN #53

August 1975
(monthly)
On Sale:
20 May 1975

Editor -Roy Thomas
Cover - Gil Kane (pencils) & John Romita (inks)

"Brothers of the Blade!" (18 pages)

Story - Roy Thomas
Pencils - John Buscema
Inks - Frank Springer
Lettering - John Costanza
Colouring - Janice Cohen


STORY OVERVIEW - Conan, Captain Murilo and Tara leave the city of Ronnoco with the Crimson Company of mercenaries. They are being payed to take a princess en route to her wedding hostage. Conan ambushes the party headed by the three brothers Slicer, Steel-Skull and Clawfoot. Elsewhere, a small detachment of the mercenaries discovers that something terrible must have been unleashed from the mysterious Shadow Ring they were supposed to retrieve...


 
The adaptation of Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian (first published in Weird Tales Magazine in December 1932) is one of the big success stories of the House of Ideas

Roy Thomas convinced Stan Lee and then publisher Martin Goodman - although the initial suggestion came from outside the company:

"Marvels readers kept writing us letters saying we should pick up the rights to a few of these things that were coming out in the book stores (...) One thing they suggested a lot was a sword and sorcery title, and especially Robert E. Howard and Conan were being mentioned. I was somewhat familiar with them and Stan really wasnt." (Roy Thomas in NN, 2010)

   
 


Roy Thomas

  Lee told Thomas to write a memo to Goodman, and the rest is comic book history - although Conan the Barbarian was initially off to a disappointing start following a first issue with a small print run but excellent sales.

"For a combination of reasons every one of the next seven issues sold less well than the one before. (...) It seemed to be going nowhere fast (...) and then Stan decided to take a look at the covers (...) Youve got too many animals on the covers he said (...) Get some more humanoid menacing-looking villains instead" (...) [so] we had skeletal warriors on the [next] cover and that issue, #8, picked up in sales and the next issue, which had a kind of menacing winged man on it fighting Conan, that picked up a little more from there and after that it was never in any kind of danger of being cancelled for the next fifteen, twenty years." (Roy Thomas in NN, 2010)

 

  Conan the Barbarian had a staggering run of 275 issues from October 1970 to December 1993 with a very loyal readership, not the least due to the long stints of writer Roy Thomas (who penned issues #1-115 and #241-253) and penciller John Buscema (who provided the art for issues #25-190).

Conan #53 is very much a set-piece in that respect, featuring an intriguing plot, a flowing storyline and some great artwork which oozes atmosphere and cinematographic flow.

 
"Big" John Buscema (1927-2002) had a strong affinity to drawing Conan, and the character played to the strengths of his outstanding art.

"[Mythological stuff and gods and monsters] I enjoyed - because I don't have the restrictions of the goddam automobiles and skyscrapers. I can create anything that comes into my imagination. That's why Conan appealed to me. I had a lot of freedom in those books. I could do anything with the buildings and create costumes. Again, I don't like drawing mechanical things. I just don't enjoy it. I like animated stuff, you know." (John Buscema in Thomas, 2002)

Not unlike Gene Colan with Tomb of Dracula, Buscema made sure he was he first artist offered the assignment of drawing Conan the Barbarian in 1970.

"Conan was something that hadn't been done before and I loved the Howard books. I fell in love with them as soon as I read them and I was chomping at the bit and I wanted to do them so badly." (John Buscema in Thomas, 2002)

 


John Buscema

 
I personally wouldn't actively seek out Marvel's sword and sorcery material back in the days, but whenever I chanced upon it, my teenage self felt that it was good entertainment. The series was clearly aimed at a more mature audience than Marvel's average superhero titles of that time, which most likely is the reason why Conan #53 - an exceptionally well done issue - has lost nothing of its entertainment value after almost 50 years.
 
  Regular buyers of MARVEL MULTI-MAGS would - with a little bit of luck - be able to continue reading the story of Conan and the Oracle as Conan #54 would become available in a MARVEL MULTI-MAGS the following month.

There is no letters page in this issue.

The "bottom of the page promo lines" featured in Conan #53 are:

 
DAREDEVIL - CAUGHT IN THE COILS OF THE COPPERHEAD! NOW ON SALE! (pg 2)
ONLY THE LIVING MUMMY CAN STAND THE ASSAULT OF THE ELEMENTALS IN SUPERNATURAL THRILLERS #14! (pg 6)
PULSE-POUNDING PREMIERE ISSUE - BEFORE THE DAWN OF MAN THERE STOOD SKULL THE SLAYER! (pg 10)
MEET GLORIAN, "THE MAN WHO CAME DOWN ON A RAINBOW" - IN THE INCREDIBLE HULK #190! (pg 14)
HOWARD THE DUCK FACES THE MOST UNEXPECTED VAMPIRE OF ALL IN GIANT-SIZE MAN-THING #5! (pg 16)
THE TARANTULA'S BACK IN TOWN - AND SPIDER-MAN HAS HIM! (pg 22)
ALL-NEW IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT THERE LURKS... THE SCARECROW! NOW ON SALE! (pg 26)
MARVEL SPOTLIGHT #23: THE SON OF SATAN DARES THE DEATH-TRAP OF DOCTOR DARKLYTE! (pg 30)
 
 

 

 

FEAR #29

August 1975
(bi-monthly)
On Sale:
20 May 1975

Editor -Len Wein
Cover - Ron Wilson (pencils) & Bob McLeod (inks)
[alterations by John Romita]

"Through a Helleyes Darkly!" (18 pages)

Story - Bill Mantlo
Pencils - Don Heck
Inks - Bob McLeod
Lettering - Petra Goldberg
Colouring - Gaspar Saladino (pg 1), Karen Mantlo


STORY OVERVIEW - Detective Simon Stroud continues his tireless pursuit of vampires in Boston, and more specifically Morbius the Living Vampire. Having discovered that one of Helleyes's eyes is an inter-dimensional portal, they both now find themselves in a different, strange and hellish dimension. They soon realize that they have to team up, at least for the time being, in order to get past the ever-watchful gaze of Helleyes and survive.


 
Marvel launched the first issue of Fear in November 1970 as part of their attempt to get back into the horror genre.
 
Initially, the title featured no original material and simply reprinted monster stories from the late 1950s and very early 1960s that were mostly written by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber, and pencilled by Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Don Heck.

This made the material "sellable" for a second time, but there were limits, and as was the case with other "reprint anthology titles" of the time, Fear changed direction after a number of issues.

 


Original Fear cover logo (#1-9)

 
The series was retitled Adventure Into Fear as of issue #10 (October 1972), although the indicia continued to list the title as simply Fear - a fact which at times leads to some confusion as to the exact title.
 


Adventure Into Fear cover logo tag (issues #10-31)

  Marvel only trademarked the title Fear, but the covers displayed the added tag line "Adventure Into" for all of the remaining issues (#10-31), with "Fear" always appearing in a slightly larger font size and often highlighted.
 
Most importantly, the added tag line to the title highlighted a change in direction. As of issue #10, Fear began to feature new material. Moved to the title following its introduction in the black &white magazine format Savage Tales #1 (May 1971), Marvel's swamp creature Man-Thing became the headline feature for ten issues before moving to its own title; the Man-Thing's last appearance in Fear #19 (December 1973) is also notable for the introduction of Howard the Duck.

Fear #20 therefore introduced a new feature, and in-keeping with the title's roots in the horror genre, Marvel decided to give the floor to Morbius the Living Vampire. Created by writer Roy Thomas, artist Gil Kane and inker Frank Giacoia, Morbius made his first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #101 (October 1971). This became possible after the previously extremely strict Comics Code had been revised early in 1971 to allow the depiction of "vampires, ghouls and werewolves (...) when handled in the classic tradition such as Frankenstein, Dracula, and other high calibre literary works". Roy Thomas had wanted to seize upon this new freedom immediately, but since Stan Lee already had plans for Dracula, had to come up with an alternative.

"[Stan Lee] was the one pushing [Tomb of Dracula]. Gil [Kane] and I, of course, had wanted to introduce Dracula into Spider-Man #101 earlier, but Stan said, no he wanted a super-villain vampire, so we made up Morbius, whom we made not a real vampire." (Roy Thomas in Cooke, 2001)

 
Dr Michael Morbius, a Nobel-prize winning biochemist, attempts to cure his rare blood disease with an experimental treatment involving vampire bats. Things don't work out as planned, and he becomes afflicted with a condition that mimics the powers and blood thirst of vampirism.

"Morbius was a science-fictional vampire." (Roy Thomas in Cooke, 2001)

As a result, Dr Morbius has to digest blood in order to survive, feels a strong aversion to light.

"The biggest influence on Morbius was a circa-1957 b&w film called “The Vampire,” in which a man had to kill people and drink their blood to stay alive, so that he wasn’t a true vampire at all." (Roy Thomas in Biscotti, 2020)

   
 
In addition, his appearance turns hideous, with his canine teeth extending into fangs, his nose flattened to appear more like a bat's, and his skin turning chalk-white. On the up side, he gains the ability to fly, along with superhuman strength. The latter certainly corresponds with his general physical appearance, which mimics supervillain attire - a clear inheritance from his first appearance having taken place in the world of Spider-Man.

"Gil [Kane] sketched out the character with me sitting with him, and we discussed the general look (…) the costume is fairly generic (…) and the face is a logical one for a sort of human vampire bat (...) I came up with the name Morbius." (Roy Thomas in Biscotti, 2020)

Morbius the Living Vampire thus became the starring feature as of (Adventure into) Fear #20 (February 1974) and continued throughout the remaining run of the title until cancellation after issue #31 (December 1975).

 

  Unlike his predecessor Man-Thing, Morbius lacked direction and consistency right from the start.

On the scripting side of things, an initial issue penned by Mike Friedrich was followed by five issues written by Steve Gerber (who sent Morbius on an interdimensional journey fighting surrealistic characters including an eyeball-headed character called "I"), who in turn was followed for 3 issues by Doug Moench. Finally, as of Fear #29, Bill Mantlo took over for what would turn out to be the final 3 issues.

In the artwork department, there was even more of a revolving door situation as pencillers (and inkers) came and went: Paul Gulacy (for 1 issue), Gil Kane (1), Rich Buckler (1), Craig Russell (2), Frank Robbins (4), Don Heck (1), George Evans (1), and finally Frank Robbins again for the final issue. Given that these artists also represent pronounced differences in style, there simply was no visual consistency as a result.

 
This lack of consistency is partly due to the fact that Fear was a testing ground. If an experiment went well (such as Man-Thing), writers and artists would be more likely to be assigned in a regular pattern and ultimately move on with the character to their own title. However, if sales figures didn't really warrant major attention, things turned into a merry-go-round quickly.

"We did some horror/mystery things in the early 70s, but we knew some of them would sell and some of them wouldn't. So we put out 20 or 30 books. It was really the old, same policy that Martin Goodman had (...) if one horror comic sells, the next month there were 20 of them. If you had Dracula, then you had to have Werewolf by Night, and you had Morbius, and you had Man-Wolf, and you had the Living Mummy, and you had Dr. Voodoo. And some of those characters are going to sell and stick around, and some aren't." (Roy Thomas in Barnhardt, 2021)

 
In this respect, Fear #29 has all the signs of a title bound for cancellation - one of them being the assignment of Bill Mantlo.
 
Mantlo's early work at Marvel included a short stint as colourist but he soon transitioned to being a writer, becoming Marvel's "fill-in king" of the 1970s.

"I would write any character quickly and, while my plotting was weak, everyone liked my dialogue (...) but I seemed to get passed over for a regular title (...) I was given other titles (Frankenstein, Morbius) but they were mags that were near cancellation anyway, and failed even before I could get started." (Bill Mantlo, in N.N., 1979)

Handing the title to "Boisterous" (his bullpen nickname) Bill Mantlo was therefore just a case of finding a free writer, with no reputation to lose, for a title bound for cancellation unless nothing short of a miracle happened - something editor Len Wein would almost be begging for on the letters page of the next issue under the title "HELP!! the Living Vampire is dying!"

 


Bill Mantlo

 
It was to no avail. Mantlo would go on to become an established writer, penning much loved runs on Iron Man and the Hulk, as well as leaving his mark on the Micronauts. But his plot for Fear #29 is simply a detour which has Morbius and Simon Stroud end up right where they started next issue, back in Boston's haunted Mason Manor, with precious little consequence for the overall story.
 

  The artwork of Fear #29 - which is very loose all over and bordering on awful in far too many panels - also speaks volumes about how much of a rushed job this must have been. Don Heck, who pencilled this issue and who had been responsible for some of Marvel's most classic artwork of the 1960s, had since found his role at the House of Ideas had changed.

"He got the nickname "Don Hack" but people forget that it was Heck that a lot of editors went to when they needed an entire book over a weekend. The inkers would then have to rush through the job too. Then those same editors would complain about the work. Well, just how great are 22 pages going to be when you only have a couple of days to draw them?" (Jim Amash in Coates, 2014)

 
Overall, Fear #29 is simply a terrible disappointment on all levels - but Mantlo and Heck (the latter left Marvel in 1977 for greener pastures over at DC) as well as inker Bob McLeod are hardly to blame. 
 
  The saving grace for Fear #29 from todays collector's perspective may be the fact that this only one of two issues of this title known to have been included in a MARVEL MULTI-MAGS (the other being Fear #10 in an October 1972 four-pack).

The "bottom of the page promo lines" featured in Fear #29 are:

 
THE TARANTULA'S BACK IN TOWN - AND SPIDER-MAN HAS HIM! (pg 2)
MARVEL SPOTLIGHT #23: THE SON OF SATAN DARES THE DEATH-TRAP OF DOCTOR DARKLYTE! (pg 6)
ONLY MARVEL WOULD BE CRAZY ENOUGH TO PUT TOGETHER A BOOK THAT WOULD MAKE YOU GO "ARRGH!" (pg 10)
IT'S A "NIGHTMARE IN NORWAY" AS JOHN KOWALSKI LEARNS THAT WAR IS HELL! (pg 14)
CAPTAIN AMERICA #188: "DRUIDWAR" - AND THE ALCHEMOID SHOUTS DEATH! (pg 16)
KOLCHAK MOVE OVER! POWER MAN FACES... "THE NIGHT SHOCKER!" (pg 22)
TERROR TIMES THREE AS CONAN FACES THE "BROTHERS OF THE BLADE!" (pg 26)
"HELL HATH NO FURY" - LIKE A DRACULA SCORNED! (pg 30)
 
 

 

 

AVENGERS #138

August 1975
(monthly)
On Sale:
20 May 1975

Editor - Len Wein
Cover - Gil Kane (pencils) & Mike Esposito (inks)

"Stranger in a Strange Man!" (18 pages)
Story - Steve Englehart
Pencils - George Tuska
Inks - Vince Coletta
Lettering - Charlotte Jetter, Gaspar Saladino (Splashpage)
Colouring - George Roussos


STORY OVERVIEW - The Wasp is rushed to hospital following an attack on the group by The Stranger, who was seeking out the Scarlet Witch (who is on her honeymoon with Vision in an unknown location). Yellowjacket heads a team of Avengers to the Stranger, whose inconsistent abilities baffle them until their final confrontation aboard the Strangers ship where he is revealed, thanks to the Beast's ingenuity, not to be the Stranger at all but rather the Toad in disguise. Easily defeated, it turns out that he stole the Stranger's technology in order to get back at the Scarlet Witch for turning down his romantic advances.


 
At this point in the Avengers' publication history, Steve Englehart had just wrapped up the "Celestial Madonna" story arc, linking the origins of Mantis to the Kree-Skrull conflict, depicting Kang and Immortus as being past and future versions of each other, and revealing the Vision's body to originally having belonged to the 1940s Human Torch, giving him enough certainty about his origins to propose to the Scarlet Witch, the subsequent wedding being presided over by Immortus.

Firing up a new storyline, Englehart had expanded the line-up of the Avengers by having the Beast and Moondragon join the team in the previous issue, Avengers #137 (July 1975).

After the Mantis epic, it was time to revamp the team. Among other changes, I brought in the Beast, my first character - there was still no X-MEN book at this time - and he bonded so well with the Avengers (...) Also introduced was Moondragon, a creation of Jim Starlin's who'd ended up in the Mantis epic as the loser in the Celestial Madonna sweepstakes. She lacked Mantis's humanity, but maybe hanging with the Avengers would muss her up a little. Or not..." (Englehart, 2020)

The focus for the next few issues is very much on Yellowjacket and his emotional struggle due to the Wasp being in a coma.

 
In that respect, Avengers #138 presents something of an interlude, with the Toad impersonating the Stranger and raising the question of where exactly Vision and the Scarlet Witch (both still active Avengers but currently on their honeymoon) actually are.

The next issue, Avengers #139, returns the spotlight to the hospital and the Wasp, before the Vision needs to enter Yellowjacket's body in Avengers #140 in order to save Hank Pym's life.

After all of that, Englehart would launch another multi-part story featuring the Squadron Supreme (Avengers #141-148, May 1975 to July 1976) which would also include some time travel (to the year 1873, to be exact) in search of Hawkeye by Thor, Moondragon and Immortus as well as the Avengers travelling to "Other Earth".

   
 
Steve Englehart (b. 1947) had taken over the sripting of The Avengers as of issue #105 (November 1972) from Roy Thomas - who had been instrumental in recruiting Englehart.


Steve Englehart

 

"Roy Thomas made AVENGERS into, arguably, Marvel's top book - one I admired tremendously. And then he became Marvel's Editor-in-Chief and handed the title off to...me. (...) I spent the first part of my run trying to do Roy Thomas stories, and feeling that I was missing the mark. Sales were good but I, an AVENGERS fan, felt less than happy with what I, the AVENGERS writer, was producing. Then in #112, I introduced a new character named Mantis. And very soon thereafter I was doing Steve Englehart stories, which turned out to work much better for me..." (Englehart, 2020)

"When [Roy Thomas] became Editor-in-Chief himself, he let us new writers be completely ourselves. That single decision allowed the great leap forward we took in the 70s, so there’s no overstating how crucial that was. (...) And of course, he decided that I could write in the first place. What was interesting to me, after he gave me Avengers, was that he liked to start with a plot and add character, while I started with character and added plot. Nevertheless, we both understood what made fun comics and tried to end up there every time." (Steve Englehart in Klaehn, 2020)

 
The pencils for Avengers #138 were provided by George Tuska (1916-2009), a seasoned comic book industry veteran who had started out back in 1939 with Fox Comics.
 

 
His first work at Marvel Comics was for Tales of Suspense #58 (November 1964), pencilling the last "Tales of the Watcher" feature to appear in that title, and then went on to truly leave his mark on Iron Man, a character he first drew for Iron Man #5 (September 1968).

Tuska would ultimately pencil Iron Man for a period of almost 10 years (with a few brief interruptions here and there), during which time he developed and shaped the visuals of the character into the iconic look of Iron Man for the entire Bronze Age. But he was also a very versatile artist who seemed to be at home with any character(s) and genre editors could throw at him.

 
George Tuska

"He could do everything. When Stan knew that a guy could do anything, he used him in every possible, conceivable way. George was a helluva artist and very versatile and very fast (...) He was in demand." (John Romita Sr in Cassell, 2005)

Right after becoming a Marvel Bullpen regular in 1967, one of George Tuska's first jobs was to ink John Buscema's pencils on a few issues of the Avengers.

It wouldn't turn out to be one of Tuska's regular titles, but he did provide the artwork for a number of Avengers issues, including #137–140 (the others were #47–48, 51, 53–54, 106–107, 135, and 163).

 
His experience with Iron Man clearly shows, but his acute artistic sense for composition and the dynamics of a page really becomes evident with a group title. In that respect, getting Tuska to pencil a few issues of the Avengers was an easy decision to make for any editor, and he was an artist who would gladly oblige if at all possible.

For Avengers #138, Tuska provided a steady flow of dynamic visuals, and many of the panels contained in that issue could easily be taken out of context, blown up, and hung on a wall - as iconic examples of 1970s superhero comic book art.

"[George Tuska] was very dependable, you didn't have to talk to him very often (...) because first he was a good artist, and secondly, Stan [Lee] had kind of indoctrinated him. by the time I took over as editor he knew the ropes. We kept him very busy at the time." (Roy Thomas in Cassell, 2005)

"[George Tuska's] layouts were certainly more imaginative than the standard at the time, and the way in which characters (...) held a lot of their strength in their shoulders and punched from their legs up through their torsos betrayed his knowledge of strength and fitness. His signature flourish may have been characters in arrested motion, coiled in preparation for violence (...) legs splayed in the form of a near-base ready for what might come next. Tuska cemented his reputation as one of the more iconic superhero artists of [the 1970s] - two full generations after entering comics." (Spurgeon, 2009)

 
 
  Regular buyers of MARVEL MULTI-MAGS would - with a little bit of luck - be able to continue reading the story of Conan and the Oracle as Avengers #139 would become available in a MARVEL MULTI-MAGS the following month.

The "bottom of the page promo lines" featured in Avengers #138 are as follows (including an outdated plug for Conan #52):

 
THE FRANKENSTEIN MONSTER GAINS THE POWER OF SPEECH AND MUST FACE "A PHOENIX BERSERK"! (pg 2)
"THE NAME IS WARHAWK" - AND TO IRON FIST IT MEANS ONLY DEATH! THIS MONTH IN MARVEL PREMIERE! (pg 6)
HE-WHO-RIDES-THE-NIGHT-WINDS LIVES AGAIN IN THE PAGES OF GIANT-SIZE KID COLT #3! (pg 10)
THE UNCANNY ULIK WANTS TO CONQUER THE UNIVERSE - AND ONLY THE MIGHTY THOR CAN STOP HIM! (pg 14)
SPIDER-MAN ASKS "SCORPION, WHERE IS THY STING?", AND ONLY DEATH HOLDS THE ANSWER! (pg 16)
CONAN #52: ALONE, THE MIGHTIEST BARBARIAN OF ALL MUST FACE "THE GOD IN THE CRYPT"! (pg 22)
IN PLANET OF THE APES #9. THE ORDER GOES FORTH: DESTROY ALL HUMANS! (pg 26)
BE THERE WITH KILLRAVEN ON "THE DAY THE MONUMENTS SHATTERED" - IN AMAZING ADVENTURES #31! (pg 30)
 
 

 


Twinkies ad, from Conan #53

 

FURTHER READING ON THE THOUGHT BALLOON

 
     
  "Comic packs" not only sold well for more than two decades, they also offer some interesting insight into the comic book industry's history from the 1960s through to the 1990s. There's more on their general history here.
     
  There's more on the background and the history of the Marvel Multi Mags here.
     
  There's more on Marvel's 1970s foray into the horror genre and their "superheroes from the crypt" here.
     
     
 

 
BIBLIOGRAPHY
 
 
BARNHARDT Adam (2021) "Marvel Legend Roy Thomas on His Storied Comics Career, the Future of Comic Book Movies, and More", published online 2 November 2021 at comicbook.com

BISCOTTI Steven (2020) "Vampires & A Monster Called Morbius: A Conversation with Roy Thomas", published online 23 November 2020 at universalmonstersuniverse.com

BREVOORT Tom (2007) "Marvel Multi-Mags", Blah Blah Blog, originally published online 28 April 2007, reposted 18 April 2020

CASSELL Dewey (2005) The Art of George Tuska, TwoMorrows Publishing

COATES John (2014) Don Heck - A Work of Art, TwoMorrows Publishing

COOKE Jon B. (2001) "Son of Stan: Roy's Years of Horror", in Comic Book Artist #13

CRONIN Brian (2019) "Who Wrote The 'Bottom Line' Promos in Marvel Comics in the 70s?", published online 8 February 2019 at CBR.com

ENGLEHART Steve (2020) "The Avengers I: 105-152", published online 25 February 2020 at steveenglehart.com

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

KLAEHN Jeffery (2020) "'I like Superheroes the best' - An Interview with Steve Englehart", published online 21 September 2020 at The Comics Journal tcj.com

N. N. (1979) "Bill Mantlo and the Micronauts", originally published in BEM #24 (July 1979), available online at innerspaceonline.com

N.N. (2010) "Roy Thomas on the History of Conan", published online at ICv2, 14 October 2010

SPURGEON Tom (2009) "George Tuska, 1916-2009", in Comics Reporter (16 October 2009)

THOMAS Roy (2002) "An Avengers Interview--Sort Of--with John Buscema", in Alter Ego Vol. 3 #13, March 2002

 
 

 
 



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uploaded to the web 20 March 2022