SPOTLIGHT ON

SPIDER-MAN, THE THING & THOR

BACK TO BACK IN A
JANUARY 1976 MARVEL MULTI-MAGS

 

 

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #152

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #13

MIGHTY THOR #243

 
 

 
In the early 1960s, the comic book industry witnessed two radically different developments. On the one hand, it saw the hugely successful comeback of the superhero genre (which had been clinically dead for most of the 1950s) and a subsequent streak of new creativity which was met with an almost unprecedented enthusiasm for the medium.

On the other hand, the industry's traditional sales points were fading away, as small stores which had carried comic books for decades were being pushed out of business by larger stores and supermarkets. At the same time, newsagents were increasingly viewing 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 were the growing number of supermarkets and chain stores. However, it was quite clear to DC Comics (who pioneered that particular concept in 1961) that in order to be able to sell comic books at outlets such as 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 found that the answer to breaking into this promising new market was to package several comic books 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 a large proportion of other goods sold at supermarkets - also conveniently packaged.

 

  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 three titles - Amazing Spider-Man #152, Marvel Two-In-One #13, and Mighty Thor #243, all from the January 1976 cover date run. This meant they were actually on sale at newsagents in October 1975, although there could be quite a delay in terms of actual availability at some sales points, resulting in Multi-Mags on display which 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 to state 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, 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 external 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).

Given its age, the polybag of this January 1976 MARVEL MULTI-MAGS is rather clean in comparison to some packagings of the same period, with only very slight dulling of the plastic and no spots of colour ink residue from when the label was turned back onto the bag during some time of storage (a common "defect" found on many comicpack bags which, however, usually doesn't affect the comic books inside the bag).

The lack of actual wear on the bag translated well to its contents; the three individual comic books inside proved to be in excellent overall condition: covers with perfect gloss and shine, perfectly flat and tight (without any spine stress or major creases), and with sharp edges. Paper discolouration is somewhat more advanced than expected (given the good shape of the bag), indicating exposure of the bag to (very) warm temperatures during storage. A very slight tinge of rust on the staples of the two outer comic books also indicates this MULTI-MAGS spent some time in a high humidity environment (the centerfold page from Thor #243 also displays signs of black ink "footprints", i.e. traces from the feed mechanism of the printing machine on the sheet of paper - something which can be seen in a lot of 1970s comic books).

No titles had permanent slots in the MARVEL MULTI-MAGS, although all three titles contained in this example - Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel Two-In-One and Thor - featured often and regularly. But even so, given the sometimes seemingly haphazard way individual issues were selected for inclusion in MARVEL MULTI-MAGS, there was no 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 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 (which were the responsibility of the editor-in-chief) and the in-house advertising were.

 

 
The January 1976 Bullpen Bulletin with its by then typical alliterative and somewhat nonsensical title ("An idiosyncratic itinerary of intangible illusions and imaginary ideas intended to illuminate your ID!") featured a very verbose (and somewhat annoyingly repetitive) plug by Stan Lee in his regular SOAPBOX column not for a comic book but for a magazine ("betcha didn't know we publish a lot of different magazines besides the comics!"), namely CELEBRITY (Stan's capital letters). It was essentially Martin Goodman's People rip-off, launched in 1975 (Howe, 2012), and it probably needed Lee's plug desperately. In the end, it didn't work, and Celebrity ceased publication in 1977.

As for the actual Bullpen Bulletins' various ITEM! bullet points, they were all concerned with Marvel's ever expanding line of titles.

 

  From a publisher's point of view it was a concerted attempt to push the competition (most notably DC) off the newsagent racks by flooding those with Marvel's own product and enhancing brand recognition by having a fold of mags which featured Marvel as part of their title (such as the new Marvel Presents and Marvel Feature alongside classics such as Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-In-One).

It worked from a publisher's perspective (by the end of 1975 Marvel was outnumbering DC by 47 to 36 titles), but from an editorial point of view it was a nightmare as the House of Ideas was precariously overextending itself. Four months prior, the September 1975 Bullpen Bulletin had highlighted the need for (constantly) rearranging creative teams in order to keep from going under; this time around, readers were told that

"We've temporarily cut the INVADERS down to a six-times-a-year schedule to give the Rascally One a breather in between his award-winning CONAN mags, the fabulous FANTASTIC FOUR, the Marvel-ous Land of OZ series, and MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE, which our Editor Emeritus is planning to write at long last."

At the same time, readers learned that both Iron Fist and Son of Satan would be getting their own titles, freeing up Marvel Premiere and Marvel Spotlight to become try-out titles again - with, of course, the potential for even more characters spinning out into their own titles.

 
Marvel was clearly winning the numbers game in the "war of the shelves", but it wasn't sustainable and would continue to cause massive headaches for its editors over the next two to three years as issues could simply not be finished on time.
 
As new titles were thrown out, others were cancelled (most of the horror genre line had been culled by this time, with the notable exceptions of Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf by Night), adding a decidedly confusing spin to things - a "constant cycle of cancellations and launches" (Howe, 2012).

Also included in all three comics collected in this MARVEL MULTI-MAGS was a combined ad for Son of Origins, the follow-up to Marvel's hugely successful collaboration with Simon & Schuster on Origins of Marvel Comics, and the "Mighty Marvel Bicentennial Calendar".

Another combined ad page promoted a "Spidey web shooter" and the "read along" comic book and record sets from specialty record label Peter Pan.

   
 
Very similar sets of records and comic books were also released by Power Records. Both labels were owned by the same company, Synthetic Plastics Company of Newark NJ.
 
 

 

 

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #152

January 1976
(monthly)
On Sale: 14 October 1975

Editor - Len Wein
Cover - Gil Kane (pencils) & John Romita (inks)

"Shattered by the Shocker!" (18 pages)
Story - Len Wein
Pencils - Ross Andru
Inks - Mike Esposito, Frank Giacoia
Lettering - John Costanza
Colouring - Glynis Wein

Synopsis
! SPOILER ALERT !

Trapped in the sewers following a fight with the Shocker in the previous issue, Spider-Man does succeed in keeping from drowning by freeing himself, but the consequences for Peter Parker have less of a happy ending: when he finally makes it back to Betty Brant and Ned Leed's engagement party (which he had left in a hurry to intercept the Shocker) he finds everybody's already left.

 
Mary Jane, fuming about Peter's sudden disappearance, gives him the icy cold shoulder the next day, so Peter Parker decides to try and see if the day can be a better one for Spider-Man. Web-slinging across town he happens to hear a recorded message from the Shocker, threatening the city with a blackout unless his ransom demands aren't met. As the mayor publicly rules out bowing to the blackmailer, Spider-Man knows trouble is afoot and decides to get involved. Which is all for the better, since he tracks down the Shocker at one of the city's power plants.
 
However, he also finds that he not only has to deal with the Shocker but also with the security guards, who see Spidey as an enemy too. But in the end Spider-Man manages to keep the guards off his back and knock out the Shocker. Leaving him webbed-up for the police to find he leaves a note, giving Spider-Man the credit for defeating the Shocker and thus hoping for an improvement of his public standing.

This Len Wein story (he had only just started writing the series the previous issue and would stay on the title until Amazing Spider-Man #180) has a number of really nice little touches in making the reader feel a part of the narrative.

   
 
Wein also plants the seeds for a number of sub-plots for future issues, and Ross Andru's seasoned artistic experience with the webcrawler (he had been drawing Spider-Man almost without interruption since Amazing Spider-Man #125) provides some truly classic Spider-Man panels, embellished by two other greats of the trade, Mike Esposito and Frank Giacoia.
 
  The printing techniques employed for comic books in the 1970s along with the cheap newsprint paper used really didn't do the artwork much justice, as a comparison to the rendition in a modern reprint edition on high quality paper stock reveals (it also shows the random choice of colouring involved in a lot of present day reprint editions).

The flaws and shortcomings of the mass printing process often left their marks, and the issue of Amazing Spider-Man #152 contained in this MARVEL MULTI-MAG has a few of them. A smudge across the first word balloon obliterates some of the text, while the inside back cover displays another problem of 1970s comic books: ink bleeding.

 
In this case the advert on the last interior page has "bled" onto the mostly white inside back cover, leaving a clearly discernable mirror image. This is either caused by strong ink saturation which the newsprint paper could not hold or, later on, by off-gassing from the acidic pulp paper of the inside pages. It is a fairly common occurrence in 1960s and 1970s comic books (although usually the effect is not quite as strong as in this example), and could be found in comic books straight off the newsagent stands.
 
 

 

 

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #13

January 1976
(bi-monthly)
On Sale:
14 October 1975

Editor - Marv Wolfman
Cover - Ron Wilson (pencils) & Frank Giacoia (inks)

"I Created Braggadoom! The Mountain that Walked like Man!"
(17 pages)
Story - Marv Wolfman (plot), Roger Slifer & Len Wein (script)
Pencils - Ron Wilson
Inks - Vince Colletta
Lettering -
Joe Rosen, Gaspar Saladino (splashpage)
Colouring - Petra Goldberg

Synopsis
! SPOILER ALERT !

Luke Cage has a visitor wanting to hire his services: one Arnold Krank, a bio-engineer, who in his own stuttered words has accidentally created a creature (that calls itself Bragadoom, after the noise it hears when smashing the Thing into a wall) that Krank thinks will destroy everything. Cage rushes to the assist after learning that the Thing is already battling Bragadoom. Together, the two heroes fight the creature, which continues to grow in size and strength, until it expends all its energy and is reduced back to its original size.

 
As Ben Grimm and Luke Cage dust themselves off and go separate ways, Krank takes the small and infantile Bragadoom home - where he intends to raise it as his son.

Having successfully tried out the concept of teaming the Thing with a different character for a "done-in-one" story in each issue of Marvel Feature #11-12 (September and November 1973), Marvel Two-in-One continued that team-up formula as of January 1974. Clocking up a total of 100 issues between then and June 1983 (plus seven Annuals along the way), it was certainly one of Marvel's most successful team-up titles with a loyal fan following.

 
For its initial twenty issues it was also one of very few Marvel superhero titles which stuck to a "done-in-one" formula, with no overarching plots to speak of. As such, Marvel Two-In-One was of course ideally suited for the MARVEL MULTI-MAGS, given that each issue had a new and self-contained storyline, and it was indeed a title to be found very often in MARVEL MULTI-MAGS throughout the mid to late 1970s and very early 1980s.

The downside of the single issue stories was their volatility. Somewhat reminiscent of DC's titles of the 1970s, heroes and foes would meet, things would happen, and then everybody just went home. None of what took place mattered to the next issue, which would just start the procedural formula all over again. It didn't inevitably produce whimsical or even bad stories, but it somehow facilitated them.

   
 
At first sight Marvel Two-in-One #13 might be considered a point in case, making it all the more baffling how it took three individuals (Marv Wolfman for the plot plus Roger Slifer and Len Wein for the script) to come up with a story that makes very little sense and provides just about the flattest characterization imaginable.
 

  However, in this case, there's more to it, as the letters page of Marvel Two-In-One #15 (May 1976) reveals: the whole thing is a parody of the 1950s Lee & Kirby monster stories.

"The mail response to MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #13 was - in a word - mixed, as indicated by the letters printed above. Indeed, opinions vary even among the trio of writers who worked on the story. Roger Slifer, who made his scripting debut with that outing, was not entirely satisfied with his dialoguing and agrees wholeheartedly with the readers who felt the stuttering of Arnold Krank was overdone - it was an experiment that didn't quite come off. You can fault us for failing, but you can't fault us for at least trying something a bit out of the ordinary.
Marv, on the other hand, still feels the story was successful as a light-hearted romp in the monster-hunting department, and is happy that so many readers enjoyed this rather offbeat terror tale.
Len just waggles his finger in the direction of production potentate John Verpoorten's office (...) Judging from past experience, we guess that means he won't be ready to talk to us (...) until at least 7 p.m."

 
Ron Wilson - the artist most associated with the title (due to an extended run on pencils) - provides a few slick panels and some interesting visuals.
 
 

 

 

MIGHTY THOR #243

January 1976
(monthly)
On Sale: 14 October 1975

Editor - Len Wein
Cover - Gil Kane (pencils) & Joe Sinnott (inks)

"Turmoil in the Time-Stream!" (18 pages)

Story - Len Wein
Pencils - John Buscema
Inks - Joe Sinnott
Lettering -
Joe Rosen, Gaspar Saladino (splashpage)
Colouring - Glynis Wein

Synopsis
! SPOILER ALERT !

Dr. Artur Zarrko, a brilliant scientist from the year 2262, tells Thor and the Asgardians about the Time Twisters, beings that travel back through time from the 80th Century. And every time they appear on Earth, it is destroyed. Agreeing to join Zarrko in his quest to stop the Time Twisters, Thor enters the Time Cube along with Jane Foster and the Warriors Three.

 
However, their travel comes to an abrupt stop when they are attacked in the Time-Stream by dinosaurs, Mongol warriors, and soldiers from the future...
 
After the original plans to have Roy Thomas script and edit the God of Thunder's title as of Thor #239 fell through due to the aforementioned title expansion and moving around of creative talent, Len Wein took up the combined editorial and writing assignment as of Thor #241, making this his third issue in a run which would see Wein stay on the title up to issue #271 (May 1978). Thor #274 would then see the return of Roy Thomas for a few issues.

Wein was thus still building up his overall plot, and in doing so brought back Dr. Artur Zarrko, also known as the "Tomorrow Man" - one of Thor's very early villains who made his first appearance in Journey into Mystery #86 (November 1962). Zarrko is a brilliant but evil scientist from the future who built a time machine to travel to 1962 and steal a cobalt bomb, the reason being that the world of his time (2262) has banned weapons.

   
 
The Tomorrow Man appeared again in Journey into Mystery in 1964 but was then shelved until Marvel Team-Up #9-11 (May-July 1973). So when Wein brought him back in Thor #242, he had a nice mix of having a villain with some (publication) history yet who hadn't been overused.
 
As mentioned before, it didn't matter that much in the '70s if you had missed a previous issue or two as most editors would bring you up to speed on the splashpage - or, in this case, fill you in on "what hath gone before".

The clarity of what was indeed going on was, of course, also carried and indeed enhanced by the artwork of "Big" John Buscema, who had been assigned to Thor from issues #182 (November 1970) to #259 (May 1977), shaping the visuals at least as much as Jack Kirby had done previously. His dynamic pencilling style suited the Thunder God and his often mythological and otherworldly settings perfectly (just as it was the perfect match for Conan) - just as inker Joe Sinnott was a perfect match. It was the closest you could get to a cinematic rendition of Marvel's Thor in the 1970s; Buscema and Sinnott's work was the equivalent of Cinemascope, Technicolor and surround sound for comic books.

 
 
 

 
No 1970's Marvel comic book was, of course, without (a lot of) third party advertising, some of which was "okay" (mostly if it featured Marvel characters, such as the frequent and somewhat famous "Twinkies" ads) and some of which was nothing but a dismal swamp of the cheapest form of advertising you could find - such as the infamous flea market ads promising anything and everything. All three titles included in this January 1976 Multi-Mag carried almost exactly the same ads, some of which are illustrated here.
 
 

  Today, any MARVEL MULTI-MAGS is a time capsule; opening that plastic bag offers a nostalgic glimpse into what it was like to be a comic book reader in the 1970s. And then as now, the combination of the three titles in these sealed polybags could go either way; sometimes it's all thrills, and sometimes there's a lemon in there - or two, if you're really unlucky.
 
I am pretty certain that, back in the days, I would have considered this January 1976 MARVEL MULTI-MAGS a treasure chest, just for the titles and main characters alone. No B-listers in here (although they could be interesting discoveries), just top billing Marvel superheroes with Spider-Man, Thor, and the Thing. Maybe I wouldn't have been quite as thrilled after reading the three comic books, although I can't be sure of that, given that comic book aficionados in their early teens were a lot more forgiving back in the '70s.

From today's perspective, however, Amazing Spider-Man #152 doesn't quite seem to know where it wants to go - most likely due to the Shocker not really providing much super-villain oomph. Although a long standing antagonist of Spider-Man (making his first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #46 in March 1967) who sports mildly interesting visuals, the way he is handled here is rather flat and lacklustre. Still, Ross Andru's artwork on Spidey never disappoints, and the Gil Kane cover is a classic. A case of the visuals making up for the story.

Marvel Two-In-One #13. Okay. At first sight and read, this really had me wondering what Messieurs Wolfman, Slifer and Wein had been thinking, drinking, or otherwise ingesting. It took a moment for the penny to drop, and it was only with some afterthought that I realized that the storyline is so ridiculous and full of "oh and then this happens, don't ask how and why" moments because it is, in fact, the trio doing a spoof of those 1950s Lee and Kirby Atlas era monster stories. The title (I Created Braggadoom! The Mountain that Walked like Man!) sort of gives it away too - after all, there was, for example, "I created... Sporr! The Thing that could not Die!" in Tales of Suspense #11, September 1960, or "I created Krang! The most fantastic Monster the World has ever known!" in Tales to Astonish #14, December 1960. And then the absent-minded scientist's name... Krank, meaning "sick" in German. The letters page of Marvel Two-In-One #15 clears it all up beyond a doubt - but what if you didn't have that issue? It probably matters more today than it did back then, in the mid-1970s, when I was well versed in those old Atlas monster stories from reprints in mags such as Chamber of Chills and Crypt of Shadows, and I probably wouldn't have thought much of it and just focused on the somewhat cool look of the monster - although, is that really what you think a mountain looks like? Overall, however, Ron Wilson's artwork (and Vinnie Colletta's inks) do evoke a 1950s horror comic book feeling, once you switch to that perspective. The whole thing is actually rather well done, although some clearer hints that this is to be seen as a tongue in cheek piece would probably have helped (such as a framing story where readers at the end find out this is actually a story in a monster comic book a kid is reading?).

Thor #243 is most likely the best issue in this polybag, even though it too suffers from recounting what is merely an intermediate staging story. But there's action aplenty, and John Buscema's pencils and Joe Sinnott's inks just pull you in. I have to admit to having a soft spot for Thor, so this would probably have been my favourite comic book from this MARVEL MULTI-MAGS back in the days as well.


 
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.
 
  By 1976, most of Marvel's once sprawling line of horror titles had fallen by the wayside; there's more on the House of Idea's "superheroes from the crypt" here.
 
  The physical and chemical degradation of 1970s comic books is, ultimately, an unstoppable process. Understanding the driving forces behind it helps to slow it down or just simply accept it, and you can find out more about it here.
 
  There's some numbers and background information concerning the "war of the shelves" launched by Marvel Comics (and primarily targeted at DC) here.
 
 

 
BIBLIOGRAPHY

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

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

 

 


More on comic packs / More on Marvel Multi-Mags

 

 

The illustrations presented here are copyright material.
Their reproduction for the review and research purposes of this website is considered fair use
as set out by the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. par. 107.


(c) 2021

uploaded to the web 19 June 2021