Comics : Mighty Marvel Comics Convention 1975

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Al Observes

This review was first published on: Apr 2013.

Background...

There really was a Mighty Marvel Comic Convention in 1975, apparently, at the Hotel Commodore (which appears to now be the Grand Hyatt New York just off of Grand Central Terminal). I didn’t go but I do have this nifty convention program!

In Detail...

"Mighty Marvel Comic Convention"
Mighty Marvel Comics Convention 1975
Year 1975 : SM Reference
Summary: Spider-Man References (Newspaper Strip Samples)
Editor:  Scott Edelman
Writer:  Stan Lee (Newspaper Strip)
Artist:  John Romita, Sr. (Newspaper Strip)
Cover Art:  Marie Severin
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Review

So, “Welcome to the First…Mighty Marvel Comic Convention, March 22, 23, 24! Hotel Commodore,” proclaims a cover dominated by a web-swinging Spider-Man with head shots of Conan, the Thing (looking a bit overinked), Thor, Captain America, Dr. Strange, and the Hulk from top to bottom on the left. This cover and “The Amazing Spider-Man vs. the Phantom Burglar!” feature are the reasons for reviewing this program but everything else here is so fun that it’s worth a quick once-over.

The inside front cover spotlights original covers of some British weeklies, including two from Spider-Man Comics Weekly. The images are small and in black and white but likely new to most of us.

The first page features a photo of a 50-something Stan Lee in fumetti style welcoming you to the convention. (“Gather mirth and memories that will linger for years.”) And, at the bottom of the page is a note reading, “Entire Contents Copyright © 1975 by Marvel Comics Group,” in case there was any doubt. "In the Beginning" follows; “an overview of Marvel’s Golden Age” by George Olshevsky, creator of the original Marvel Indexes. It’s rather a quick, shallow overview of the whole era but it does have some cool reprints of Subby, Whizzer, and Jack Frost pages, plus a Sentinels of Liberty ad.

"The Coming of Conan," written by Roy Thomas, is reprinted from Marvelmania (Roy’s column “Roy’s Rostrum” from #2-4 to be exact). It is a surprisingly frank examination of how Roy brought Conan the Barbarian to Marvel Comics and how the creative team came together. Roy takes on the doubters and skeptics as well, telling them,“If you don’t like the series by when you get to #4…I’d suggest you swear off it forever because it will never take.” He mentions the angry mail that came in before the series ever saw publication. “A few readers, not fans of Barry’s work in the past, learned that Smith was to do the drawing and denounced it, sight unseen,” he writes, and responds to another doubter with, “I couldn’t resist pointing out…that even the critics in the New York Times wait until after they’ve seen a play to review it.” Maybe something someone should say to today’s online nay-sayers. Since the essay is cobbled together from several five year old Marvelmania pieces, it has some rough transitions and some deceptive sentences such as, “Barry’s penciled cover appears on the cover of this magazine” but, overall, it is worth the reprint five years later. And worth reading almost forty years after that.

Let’s jump past the page of advertisers and get to “What’s New From the Ol’House of Ideas?” This begins with a panel containing nothing but word balloons that point off-panel. I’m not sure what this is. Is this supposed to be Stan still speaking from page 1? Is this Marvel unwilling to pay someone for a new illustration that would only appear in a convention book? The next three pages present the new ideas. They are “Marvel Classics Comics,” “Marvel Movie Premiere,” and “Oz.” Marvel Classics Comics seems the most developed at this point, featuring the covers of the first four issues: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Time Machine, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. This series did indeed come out and lasted 36 issues with lots of cool Gil Kane covers but less appealing interiors. Marvel Movie Premiere feels less formed with no image from the book in the ad. It does correctly say that “Our first sensational film adaptation” is “Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Land that Time Forgot,” but then it incorrectly says, “And don’t go away, ‘cause there’s more to come!” Marvel Movie Premiere only lasted one issue. Most intriguing of all (especially for this big Oz fan) is the third book: “Marvel Brings You the Marvel-ous World of Oz, written and illustrated by Roy Thomas & John Buscema.” The page features illustrations of the Tin Man, Scarecrow, Dorothy, and the Cowardly Lion; all looking somewhat different than their MGM 1939 movie counterparts. Unfortunately, what came out instead was MGM’s Marvelous Wizard of Oz #1 a treasury-sized joint publication by Marvel and DC, adapting the movie instead of the book and using the images and characters from the film. It was followed by Marvel Treasury of Oz #1, another treasury-size book, this time featuring L. Frank Baum’s second book, “The Marvelous Land of Oz,” but with the Scarecrow and Tin Man images from the film. (All right, I admit it, I can’t locate my copy of this so I’m going from memory. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong!) And that was that of Oz from Marvel until the wonderful series of Baum book adaptations by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young. They have made it through the first five books with more on the way and every one of you should be reading these. They are the best comics currently out there.

And now we come to “The Amazing Spider-Man vs. the Phantom Burglar!” introduced by Spidey who says, “A few years back, Stan (the Man) Lee and Jazzy Johnny Romita (with the able lettering assistance of Sam Rosen) worked up the first two weeks of a Spider-Man newspaper strip. It was carted around to a few syndicates, all of which yearned to see more, but unfortunately, Stan and the Jazzy One were too overburdened as it was to take on the chores of producing a daily strip. So the project was put aside, but…our heroes still harbor the idea of someday picking up pen, pencil, and brush and bringing Spidey to the pages of your favorite paper. And who knows, Faithful One, someday their dream may come true!” I don’t know how accurate this little blurb is. Did the syndicates really yearn to see more? What I do know, Faithful One, is that the dream did come true two years later and the Spidey strips has been around ever since. As for this sample, this is neither the first or last time it has seen print. (It is in Marvelmania #3-4, 1970 and was recently reprinted in Spider-Man Newspaper Strips (Volume 1).) But most people hadn’t seen in back in 1975. Most people probably haven’t seen nowadays either.

There are 12 strips altoghether.

  1. J. Jonah Jameson gets out of his limo fuming over the Phantom Burglar who is the headline story. JJJ is sure that the Phantom Burglar and Spider-Man are “one and the same.” He tells Betty Brant to “get me the complete file on the Phantom Burglar and Spider-Man,” then enters his office where he finds Spidey standing on his ceiling. “You were expecting Woody Allen?” Spidey says.
  2. Spidey tells JJJ that if he continues to accuse him of being the Phantom Burglar “I’ll sue you and your rag for libel.” The two spar verbally for a bit until Spidey swings out the window. “What’ll you say when I catch the real Phantom Burglar”” he asks. “Break a leg, you bum!” says Jonah.
  3. As Spidey swings off, JJJ yells after him, “I’ll get the goods on you yet!” “Sure!” Spidey replies, “When Nasser gets Bar Mitzvahed.” (Gamal Abdul Nasser was the President of Egypt during the height of its anti-Israel period in the 1960s, including the Six Day War.) Robbie Robertson brings Jonah “the new police theories” on the Phantom Burglar. “Who needs ‘em?” JJJ says, “I know Spider-Man is the one they want and I’m gonna prove it.”
  4. Meanwhile, Spidey recovers his civvies and becomes Peter Parker…as elsewhere the Phantom Burglar strikes.
  5. As the Phantom Burglar “scales the sheer wall of a midtown skyscraper,” Peter visits Aunt May who is watching JJJ accusing Spider-Man on TV. “Why don’t the police listen to Mr. Jameson and arrest that horrible Spider-Man?” May asks.
  6. Peter rides off on his motorcycle (meaning this sequence was probably done in 1967 or so). Meanwhile, the Phantom Burglar enters a 35th floor window and grabs the night watchman from behind.
  7. The next day, ESU students (including Harry Osborn and Gwen Stacy) read the Daily Bugle accusing Spidey of the latest crime. This makes Peter so mad that he rips the newspaper.
  8. ”[T]hru being this town’s friendly, neighborhood fall guy,” Peter switches to Spidey and patrols the city looking for the Phantom Burglar.
  9. After hours of searching, Spidey finds the Phantom Burglar and realizes why everyone thinks he’s the burglar. “He also can walk on walls!”
  10. Spidey confronts the Burglar who knocks him off the wall “with some sort of spinning disc.” “Think fast, Spidey!” Spidey thinks as he falls, “You’re a great wall-crawler, but you can’t fly!”
  11. The Burglar taunts him as he falls. Spidey stops his fall by shooting out his webbing. “But I’m swinging too fast! Gonna slam into the wall!”
  12. Spidey hits the wall hard. “My back! It feels like I broke it!” he thinks. He dangles, entangled in his webbing, unable to move. “What a way,” he thinks, “for Spidey to make his final exit!” The blurb in the final panel proclaims, “Next: How it Began.”

So, is Spidey finished? Is his back broken? Who is the Phantom Burglar? What does “How it began” mean? We will never know. (Well, we can assume that “How it began” refers to a planned recap of Spidey’s origin.) It appears that Johnny later used the Phantom Burglar’s look for the Prowler but beyond that…since the series was not picked up, Stan and Johnny left it at that. By the time the newspaper strip does appear in 1977, this sequence has been forgotten. It’s still worth reading, however. Johnny’s artwork is solid as usual. Stan introduces Spidey, Peter, JJJ, Robbie, Betty, Aunt May, Harry, Gwen, and a villain in 12 short strips and leaves us with a cool cliffhanger. Good stuff.

The following page is a black and white reproduction of the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #50 turned into a memorial for Artie Simek (“He Shall Be Missed”) who had recently died at the age of 59. (An age to which I’m getting uncomfortably close.)

“In the Marvel Manner” is a reproduction of Marv Wolfman’s page by page plot outline of Tomb of Dracula #32, demonstrating the Marvel Manner of writing which is “plot first and then the script.” Three finished pages of the comic (pages 8, 10, and 17) are printed so that you can compare Marv’s summary with Gene Colan’s art decisions and then see how Marv scripted from there. Page 8 is particularly interesting because we can see how Gene completely ignored Marv’s direction of “Drac, standing by the fireplace and the urn (he can finger the urn while speaking and Quincy could tell him to get his hands off of it).” Obviously, they can’t reprint the whole comic but it would have been nice.

In a “Marvel Trivia Test,” (reprinted from Marvelmania Magazine (1970 Series) #2.)“Canadian Marvelmaniac Norm Labelle” emulated the movie dialogue quizzes from TV Guide. “To take the test, merely read the line of dialogue given, keeping in mind the context it is presented in, and choose from the four responses which follow, which response you think was given in the actual comic.” The instructions finish with the admonition, “No peeking at your comics!” which probably wasn’t necessary since most of the quotes come from Golden Age books. The most recent of the bunch is from Amazing Spider-Man #7 in 1963, reproduced here.

The Vulture to Spider-Man in “The Return of the Vulture”(1963):
”Hah! You blundered right into my trap…as I knew you would!”
To which Spidey replied:

  1. ”Well, mercy me!”
  2. ”I’m not done in yet, madman! As you’ll soon see!”
  3. ”Well, ya can’t win ‘em all!”
  4. ”I knew I had done something wrong!”

I’m sure all of you Spidey fans correctly answered with #1.

“Bullpen Unleashed!” features 8 pages of photos of writers, artists, and production people. It’s interesting to see all these folks looking so young, especially the younger men with the long hair and beards in fashion at the time. While doing a little research on this, I stumbled on this item from Scott Edelman’s Blog in which he reproduces his and Irene Vartanoff’s photos (Scott and Irene married and remain married, it seems) but also talks about how he, as editor of this convention book, chose the layout for Marie Severin’s cover. Check it out!

Two pages of photos from the 1974 San Diego Con follow, mostly starring Roy Thomas. One look at these photos and it’s clear that the San Diego Con is a far different animal now than it was back then.

“Marvel on the March!” presents previews of three new series. (“You’ve been with us through the sixties, now stay with us through the seventies!”) They are Satana, the Devil’s Daughter (“soon…appearing in the pages of Giant-Size Dracula”), Skull the Slayer (“so new that we don’t even know what book it’s going to be in yet”), and the Scarecrow (“will take over in the pages of Dead of Night #11”). The previews consist of splash pages only, which don’t tell you much, but it must have been fun to catch these glimpses before the series began. After all, who knew that all three of these series would fizzle out so fast? (Skull the Slayer, by the way, ended up appearing in his own short-lived mag.)

Two blank pages for autographs follow. Mine remain blank.

The inside back cover shows us “still more British Marvel weeklies” and the back cover is a nice Herb Trimpe illustration of the Hulk sitting on the back of a caboose sadly waving good-bye. Good-bye, Hulk! See you at the next Mighty Marvel Comic Convention! Now where did I put my copy of Mighty Marvel Convention 1976?

In General...

Covering a book like this is less a review and more of a trip down memory lane. Even if you didn’t get real memories at the convention, this book still gives you that tingle of near-participation! Highlights of the book are the Lee-Romita Spidey sample strips (even though they are available elsewhere), the promo for an Oz book that never came to be, and the memorial to Artie Simek. The British covers and the Bullpen photos are fun, too. Hell, the whole book is fun!

Overall Rating...

Do you need it? No. Is it cool, though? Sure! Four webs.