I still have a review to write of a 1975 Superman 100-pager but frankly, I found it such a stodgy and dull read, I can’t get round to it. Instead, I wanted to talk about a different comics marketing strategy from the 70s.
This was a completely random find on Google Images this week:
It was a rush, seeing that packaging again after so many years- although the contents hail from a far later period than I associate with the branding. And we had three comics per pack, not four.
We had a family holiday in Morecambe, Lancs. in the summer of 1978. I remember finding a newsagent in the town which sold these triple-packs and the contents were already two years old by that point. Over the course of the week, my brother and I must’ve bought four of the “grab-bags”; I don’t know what they cost at the time, but I’m assuming it was around a quid.
Chronologically, the first pack dated from August 1976 and contained Dr. Strange 17, a heady occult brew from Englehart and Colan, too sophisticated for my tastes then; Kirby’s Eternals 2, the second issue of his Ancient Astronauts epic and Cap & the Falcon 200: the Bicentennial climax of the Madbomb storyline . I would have preferred the Englehart Nomad sequence at that age but it’s amusing to see how dated his stories seem now and how Kirby’s oddball world has been strip-mined latterly.
The next two packs contained comics from October ’76: Power Man 36, with a snoozer about alchemist-villain Chemistro; Ka-Zar 18, an unappealing Moench/Mayerik sci-fantasy adventure with flying sharks and a comedy relief Hobbit named Zartros; and an ugly issue of the Champions as they faced off against Marvel’s Soviet supervillains.
Of far more interest were Gerber & Sal Buscema’s Defenders 40, which depicted Valkyrie in a gold-foil costume ( designed I believe by John Byrne). Also, Marvel Premiere 32 with Howard Chaykin’s sci-fantasy bounty hunter, the epically-named Monark Starstalker. His cybernetically-linked falcon-robot was very cool.
Best of all was X-Men 101, the debut of wimpy Jean Grey’s sensusous Phoenix identity. In those almost-unimaginable days, the sole X-Men title was bi-monthly and no issues had appeared in my area for about a year. The fact that the story was largely a lead-in to an Oirish romp with the Juggernaut barely registered, such was my excitement.
A fourth pack contained a triptych of Marvels from November ’76 .Avengers 153: a Conway/John Buscema production from the rather fallow period between the Headshop Kozmic of Englehart and the angsty Shooter era. I was very interested in a line-up comprising the Beast and the Golden Age Whizzer at that time.
MTIO: a knockabout adventure for Ben Grimm and the Man of Bronze. The generic cosmic villain Blacksun ( so Seventies) would go on to play a major role in the well-remembered “Project Pegasus” storyline.
Finally, Master of Kung-Fu 46, “The Spider Spell” was a moody, cinematic episode from the Moench/Gulacy Magnum Opus and an eample of the House of Ideas at its creative peak in the Bronze Age.
The one thing these comics all appear to have in common is that they were published in months where they weren’t distributed in the UK- or at least in my area- for whatever reason. The great attraction, of course, was the random nature of the contents. You could end up with something you’d already read or owned because the bags were sealed and only the top copy was visible. But that also meant you could find an unexpected gem.
Next time, I’ll be looking at the contents of more grab-bags: this time from the spinner rack in Lewis’s on Argyle Street, circa 1979, when these packages were on their way out.
All images presumed copyright of their respective owner