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 pioneer "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 comic books contained in this specific MARVEL MULTI-MAGS are all from the November 1976 cover date run, which meant that they were actually on sale at newsagents in August 1976 - 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.
No titles had permanent slots in the MARVEL MULTI-MAGS, but both Amazing Spider-Man and Eternals would show up in a reliably regular way. Issues of Master of Kung Fu, on the other hand, have only featured in three of the 250 MARVEL MULTI-MAGS known to date. But even with the fairly regular titles (other examples were Hulk, Avengers and Fantastic Four) 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. On the other hand, 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. 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.

In November 1976, the Bullpen Bulletin was still on its way through the alphabet as far as its title was concerned, arriving at the letter S - which resulted in the typically alliterative and somewhat nonsensical title "A Scintillating Soliloquy of Stunning Stories, Sagacious Sagas, and Senses-Shattering Super-Heroes!".

The headline item of Stan Lee's Soapbox column was the kind of story that makes you wonder (these days, not back then) how much actual fact it contained. Were hoarders really buying "all the copies of a new issue as soon as it appears (...) and sell them later at a big profit", or were "True Believers everywhere (...) complaining that our mags are selling out too fast" related more to a distribution problem? Whatever it was, it certainly allowed Stan Lee to throw in a plug for Marvel's subscription offerings - which also happened to be the subject of a full-page in-house ad.


In-house ad from Eternals #5

As for the actual Bullpen Bulletins' various ITEM! bullet points, they were - as usual - mostly concerned with staffers new and old, plugs for upcoming Treasury Editions, and a push for another collaboration with Simon & Schuster (albeit a slightly oddball one in the form of The Mighty Marvel Comics Strength & Fitness Book).

Marvel was selling its brand and properties left, right, and centre, and doing comparatively well (certainly in comparison to their main competitor, DC Comics). Sales of comic books were up, dipping only slightly during the second half of the year - but still in overall positive territory compared to 1975, whereas DC's numbers were only going one way, and that was down (Tolworthy, 2016). But the bottom line would be that "running a comic book company was no cake walk in 1976", as Joe Brancatelli famously put it in one of his monthly columns for Warren in 1977.

"Whatever improvements were made at Marvel [in 1976] came by virtue of the fact that they raised comic prices, made additional non-comic sales (...), cut printing costs by lowering the print runs and subsequently had less books returned unsold since less were printed in the first place. (...) The company decided to print less comics in 1976 rather than trying to sell more." (Brancatelli, 1977)

The fact that "our mags are selling out too fast" may thus have been caused more by a curbed supply rather than a surging demand (which no doubt is what readers inferred from Stan Lee's statement).





November 1976
On Sale:
10 August 1976

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

"Olympia" (17 pages)

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

STORY OVERVIEW - Having been informed by fellow Eternal Sersi of the Deviant attack on New York, Makkari and Thena, daughter of the Prime Eternal Zuras, leave the eternal city of Olympia to help Earth. Just as Sersi and Margo Damian are captured and readied to be taken to the Deviant's undersea kingdom of Lemuria, Makkari and Thena swoop in and take out several attackers. At the same time, officials at the Pentagon review the surveillance photographs taken in the Andes Mountains of the Celestial God-Ship.


In their very own way, the Eternals were a fun read for most of the time, and Jack Kirby's artwork gave it a very distinctive look. In terms of storyline, however, the title could be a real mouthful. But in order to fully understand the Eternals, one needs to understand the enormous amount of Jack Kirby's personal and professional history tied into this title.

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. DC promised him not only full credit but also full artistic freedom, the result of which was Kirby's "Fourth World" meta-series, a blend of classic mythology and science fiction. For some it was the ultimate comic book saga, while to others it just all seemed too convoluted and confusing, and the latter group of people seemed to be in the majority as Kirby's work didn't sell near as well as DC needed it to (Stump, 1996).

As the number of cancellations of Fourth World titles grew, so did Kirby's disappointment with DC, and after his contract ended in Spring 1975 Jack Kirby once again went 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, keeping his work deliberately detached from Marvel continuity (Gartland & Morrow, 2013).

In terms of new concepts, Kirby started working on The Eternals, which was thematically similar to his DC work (especially the New Gods) but actually took its core inspiration from Swiss author Erich von Däniken's Chariots of the Gods - in which the author 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).


Jack Kirby

It was another typically high-flying Kirby concept, accompanied by artwork of complex machinery, but at least to start with it seemed to work well enough. By the time Eternals #5 hit the news stands, Kirby was still somewhat building his cast and plotting out the general theme, and the letters page was full of praise for the first two issues.
    Generally speaking (although obviously a matter of taste), a certain "looseness" seemed to plague Kirby's work since his return from DC. His plotting would sometimes go off in more directions than most readers were willing to accept let alone care for, and even his artwork at times showed signs of letting up, as the arguably bland and simplistic splashpage of Eternals #5 would seem to indicate (bearing in mind that the splashpage of any comic book was the second most important selling point after its cover).

Ultimately, 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 apart significantly - some still admired it, while others simply couldn't stand it (Gartland & Morrow, 2013)

Only one letter published in Eternals #5 headed in that direction, but the call to connect the Eternals to the rest of the Marvel Universe got louder and louder everywhere else - not the least from editorial staff at the House of Ideas.

"In addition to disliking the dialogue (which was sometimes ludicrous but always earnest, as in the scene [from Eternals #5] when an innocent bystander ran through crowded metropolitan streets yelling "Run! Run! The Devil's come back from space with an army of Demons!"), they wanted more renowned Marvel heroes in the book." (Ro, 2004)

Kirby only halfheartedly tried to appease his critics, such as explaining the presence of the Hulk in a later issue as an instance of an android robot. This only frustrated his critics more, but there were also actual problems, as Scott Edelman (who as Assistant Editor had the task of proofreading Kirby's material) points out.

"I was genuinely horrified by the clunky captions Kirby was providing and the wooden dialogue he was putting into the mouths of his characters. I also recognized that it had probably always been that way, that [Stan] Lee had been able to add a veneer of verisimilitude over Kirby’s images which had pulled it all together in the past, that could have done the same in the ’70s if the relationship between the two men hadn’t imploded." (Edelman, 2012)

Gartland & Morrow (2013) claim that such critical reception of Kirby's work was partly fabricated by people inside Marvel wanting to bully Kirby out.

Howe (2012) on the other hand quotes an unnamed Marvel staffer who wrote positive "fan letters" to try and counter-balance all the negative feedback pouring in - and Edelman himself is also quite clear in refuting the claim.

"I never tried to usurp Kirby’s role as the scripter of the books he drew, and I never tried to get him fired (...) as far as I know, none of the other assistant editors attempted to unseat the King either (...) I have to wonder whether some Kirby supporters are so certain in their cause that they are invested in the idea comics fandom could not possibly have grown dissatisfied with what Kirby was doing without Marvel staffers surreptitiously egging them on. Isn’t it possible that fandom soured on Kirby’s prose on its own, with no need for a whispering campaign to urge them to do so?" (Edelman, 2012)

On the up side, Kirby still managed to infuse his art with a certain dynamic, and if you liked his 1950s horror title monster work, the visuals of the "demons from space" in this issue looked and felt like a very pleasant throwback.

  But regarding his scripts, 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.

When Eternals #5 hit the newsstands in August 1976, Kirby's contract renewal was still a good 18 months out, but when it finally came up for discussion in April 1978 (three months after Eternals would be cancelled with issue #19), Stan Lee made it clear that he only wanted Kirby's artwork and no more of his scripting (Howe, 2012).

Not surprisingly, Kirby left, went to work for the animation industry, and never returned to Marvel again.

  Copies of the Eternals appeared frequently in MARVEL MULTI-MAGS, and although the evidence available at this point in time continues to present some holes in the data, Marvel's MULTI-MAGS may even have carried a complete and full run of all 19 issues. With a little bit of luck, readers had certainly been able to pick up the previous issue, Eternals #4, and thus continue reading the story of the Deviants' attack on NYC.




November 1976
On Sale:
10 August 1976

Editor - Archie Goodwin
Cover pencils - Al Milgrom
Cover inks - Jack Abel

"The Spider Spell!"
(17 pages)
Story - Doug Moench
Pencils - Paul Gulacy
Inks - Pablo Marcos
Lettering -
Joe Rosen
Colouring - Petra Goldberg

STORY OVERVIEW - (Part 2 of 6; each issue is narrated by a different character, this one by MI6 agent Clive Reston) Reston is captured, and Shang Chi must get past a man-mountain of a sumo wrestler who can resist the most powerful Karate blows. Meanwhile, Fu Manchu is taking further steps for his return.

Master of Kung Fu was one of Marvel's many titles of the 1970s which moved somewhat outside of the traditional superhero theme. The intention was for the House of Ideas to potentially tap into new readership groups or expand the interests of existing ones by opening up new genres. Star Wars is of course the best known and also the most profitable such venture, along with Conan the Barbarian, but Master of Kung Fu was pretty successful too.
Marvel had started to fully embrace the genre expansion by the very early 1970s, and the case for a Kung-Fu themed title was brought up by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin after having seen the TV show Kung Fu (Pearl, 2012).

"We went to Roy Thomas, Marvel's Editor-in-Chief, and proposed our series. Roy was not impressed; martial art was not his thing. But he was at least intrigued by our enthusiasm, so he did his [Editor-in-Chief] thing and said he'd okay it if we incorporated Fu Manchu, a more traditional Asian character, as a sales draw (...) I'd read all the Fu Manchu books, and I liked pulp. I could write Fu Manchu - if he absolutely had to be in the book. Jim and I didn't think he did (...) but Kung Fu was still just a blip on the radar, and editorial decisions are based on what's worked before, so Fu Manchu was in." (Englehart, 2016)

Acquiring the rights to Sax Rohmer's characters came with a short-term sales boost and a long-term problem.

The sales boost worked instantly. Shang-Chi made his debut in Special Marvel Edition #15 (December 1973), a former reprint title, and resonated so well with readers that Special Marvel Edition was simply retitled as of issue #17, becoming Master of Kung Fu (with the prefixed tagline The Hands of Shang-Chi and the fan-favourite acronym MOKF). It ran for 109 issues before being cancelled with Master of Kung Fu #125 in June 1983.

The long term problem was that while Shang-Chi was a Marvel character, Fu Manchu was not. Created by Sax Rohmer for his 1913 novel The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu (released in the US as The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu), the character and name had to be licensed from the Rohmer estate. A major reason for doing so, it seems, is that Roy Thomas at the time had been told that DC might look into a Fu Manchu title if Marvel did anything in the way of Kung Fu (Cronin, 2019).

However, when Marvel cancelled the series, they lost the rights to Fu Manchu (as was the case with many characters Marvel licensed in the 1970s, e.g. Godzilla). It created a problem for Marvel's own Shang-Chi (since so much of his character background was tied up in the relationship with his evil father), making further appearances of the "Master of Kung Fu" somewhat complicated and leading to various retcon measures in attempts to not have to use the name Fu Manchu.

In essence, Master of Kung-Fu and the adventures of Shang-Chi were penned in an action and espionage adventure vein (which also put them very much in tune with Rhomer's later original Fu Manchu books), whilst remaining true to Englehart's vision of a spiritual and philosophical (and thus reluctant) warrior who never wavers in fighting his father's evil schemes.

But what was therefore totally impossible for the longest time, was for Marvel to reprint any of the original Master of Kung Fu material - until a licensing agreement was once again reached with the Rohmer estate in 2015. As a result, Marvel rushed the entire Bronze Age MOKF material to the printers and published it in four volumes of Omnibus format collections between 2016 and 2017.


Even though actually only appearing in very few panels of this issue of MOKF and not actually mentioned by name, Fu Manchu is an essential part of the plot - a fact that prevented reprints for decades.


Steve Englehart (*1947)

  Clearly one of the Marvel comic books of the early 1970s where writers and artists were aiming at an audience in the teenage and older age range whilst using literary characters, it enjoyed a smiliar success as Tomb of Dracula.

"A lot of us back then were trying to break out of comics just for kids, and it was very possible for us to do those things on the non-superhero books, because no one was paying attention. So Roy Thomas could do that on Conan, Steve [Englehart] could do that on Doc Strange and Master of Kung-Fu, [Steve] Gerber could do it on Man-Thing or Howard the Duck, and I could do it on Dracula." (Marv Wolfman in Siuntres, 2006)

"After just two issues, the series was such a sensation that [Special Marvel Edition] officially became MASTER OF KUNG FU (...) Shang Chi became Marvel's most popular character for years thereafter (...) Unfortunately, doubling my work load was something I couldn't do with such a philosophical book, and rather than crank it out, I left it. This was too bad for me, but fortunately it was taken over by Doug Moench, who went on to work with a series of great artists like Paul Gulacy and Gene Day to make it one of Marvel's truly memorable series." (Steve Englehart, AN)

  This is the second issue of a six-part storyline culminating in Master of Kung Fu #50, with each issue narrated by a different character (part 2, in this issue, by Clive Reston). However, Master of Kung Fu was an extremely rare find in a MARVEL MULTI-MAGS, so there was no way one could have followed that arc with what was available over the following months in subsequent MARVEL MULTI-MAGS (although you could have picked up the previous issue, Master of Kung Fu #45, with a bit of luck).




November 1976
On Sale:
10 August 1976

Editor - Len Wein
Cover - Ross Andru (pencils) & John Romita (inks)

"Let the Punisher fit the Crime!" (18 pages)

Story - Len Wein
Pencils - Ross Andru
Inks - Mike Esposito
Lettering - John Costanza
Colouring - Glynis Oliver

STORY OVERVIEW - The Punisher tracks down Spider-Man and Nightcrawler, believing that one of the heroes framed him as the Coney Island sniper. After an all-out brawl, the Punisher and Spider-Man agree to team-up to uncover the truth behind the shootings, and they succeed in revealing the true identity of the gunman, who turns out to be the villain Jigsaw, seeking revenge for the fact that the Punisher caused his facial disfigurement. And J. Jonah Jameson is seeking to have yet another go at a Spider-Slayer.

Whereas DC's highly structured approach to their comicpacks resulted in zero duplicate titles across different bags, the same could not be said for Marvel's Multi-Mags, and late 1976 was an especially chaotic period in that sense - with numerous identical titles packaged into different Multi-Mags of the same month.
For the October 1976 run of Multi-Mags there are no less than three documented instances of duplicates packaged into different packs:

Eternals #4 (Amazing Spider-Man #161, Doctor Strange #19, Eternals #4)
Eternals #4
(Thor #252, Eternals #4, Captain America #202)

Daredevil #138 (Daredevil #138, Ka-Zar #18, Marvel Spotlight #30)
Daredevil #138
(Double Feature #18, Daredevil #138, Marvel Super-Heroes #60)

Marvel Spotlight #30 (Daredevil #138, Ka-Zar #18, Marvel Spotlight #30)
Marvel Spotlight #30
(Master of Kung Fu #45, Tomb of Dracula #49, Marvel Spotlight #30)

But in November 1976, Amazing Spider-Man #162 topped them all - being packaged into no less than three different Marvel Multi-Mags (which is why it is discussed in more detail here).


November 1976

Amazing Spider-Man #162

Amazing Spider-Man #162, Marvel Feature #7, Thor #253
Amazing Spider-Man #162
, Master of Kung Fu #46, Eternals #5
Amazing Spider-Man #162
, Marvel Triple Action #32, Captain America #203

A packaging policy of this kind didn't alienate the targeted market base much (such as parents or grandparents buying a small treat for their kids or grandchildren), but it didn't win any favours with the actual comic book readers - if the problem of ending up with duplicates for issues purchased elsewhere was already a concern, then getting multiple copies of the same issues in different comicpacks of the same month really was bad news.

"I had so many comics, the odds were I'd wind up with dupes (...) that was why Comicpacs did not work for me." (Evanier, 2007)

Things would not improve much in that respect throughout 1977; the situation was even complicated a bit by the fact that Whitman Publishing would start putting out their own 3-packs, with (obviously) no regard for the contents of Marvel Multi-Mags available at the same time. It simply was just another fact of life for comic book aficionados of the 1970s.



In-House ad from Eternals #5



  "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.
  Joe Brancatelli was, in his own words, "the first person ever paid to write about comics in the comic books", and you can read more from him here.

BRANCATELLI Joe (1977) "The Comic Books", in Creepy #92 (October 1977)

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

CRONIN Brian (2019) "Did Marvel Have a License for Fu Manchu Before Shang-Chi Was Created?", published online at CBR, 27 May 2019

EDELMAN Scott (2012) "Revisiting Jack Kirby’s return to Marvel Comics", Scot Edelman Blog, published online 27 May 2012

ENGLEHART Steven (AN) "Master of Kung Fu", Steve Englehart Writes, published online (date unknown)

EVANIER Mark (2007) "It's in the Bag!", published online in News From Me

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

PEARL Barry (2012) "Lost in Licensing: Exit Fu Manchu", published online at Comic Book Collectors Club, 27 June 2012 (accessed through

RO Ronin (2004) Tales to Astonish - Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and the American Comic Book Revolution, Bloomsbury

SIUNTRES John (2006) "Marv Wolfman by Night", Word Balloon: The Comic Creator's Interview Show (transcribed from the podcast originally available online at

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

TOLWORTHY Chris (2016) "Marvel and DC sales figures", published online at



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uploaded to the web 15 October 2023