The first “Item” in the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins for June 1967 (“Dazzling Data, Dizzy Dispatches, and Dangerous Declarations of rather Dubious Distinction!”) began “As though we don’t have enough mags to publish now, all you madcap MMMS’ers have already received the first great issue of our newest and our most exclusive publication – The Merry Marvel Messenger – mailed free of charge to all loyal, card-carrying members of the nuttiest fan club in history!” When I reviewed Amazing Spider-Man #49, June 1967 (of course), I said of the Messenger, “And I have to admit that I have never seen one of these. Do they really exist? If I can get my hands on one, I promise to review it.” And now I can report that they really exist, I got my hands on one, and I am fulfilling my promise to review it.
As I said in the summary on the title page, “The Merry Marvel Messenger is a four-page 7” by 8 ½” newspaper that came with the MMMS 1967 membership kit. (The issue itself has a 1966 copyright.) It features Bullpen Bulletins, Marvel Trivia, a biography of Jack Kirby, and sneak previews of upcoming comics. Only one issue was published.” As far as I know. But if there’s another, I promise to review it.
The only justification for reviewing the Merry Marvel Messenger on Spiderfan, besides the fact that I promised to do so, is the little image of Spidey reading a paper that says “Marvel Comics Group” on the opposite side. He’s in the upper right of the masthead with the Hulk on the left side. It’s a very familiar image but it may be the first time it appears. I haven’t been able to find one earlier.
The Messenger is designed like a four page newspaper. The headline is “Face Front, Marvelites.” Below it is an illustration of the Thing with a New Year’s Eve party hat on his head. “Season’s Greetings” is written to the left of him. So, when did they send this out?
The whole thing is written like the Bullpen Bulletins page in Stan’s bombastic style but takes it so far as to tumble into self-parody. Either someone else wrote these entries trying to emulate Stan’s patois or Stan himself got carried away. I’ll give an example for each item.
The first article is entitled Blasts and Bravos on TV Super-Heroes and is about the popularity of the Marvel Super-Heroes cartoon show that featured Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, Sub-Mariner, and Thor and premiered in 1966. Apparently, “Response to our bombastic boob-tube venture have been so overwhelming the past few weeks that the Post Office is threatening to make Irv Forbush help them deliver all of your letters!” even though, “your brain-bustin’ Bullpen realizes that the animation isn’t up to Walt Disney yet – and one or two of your respective hosts may be playing up a bit much to the bubble-gum brigade – but just wait till next season! All in all, we think old Wing-Head, Fish-Face, Green Skin, Goldilocks, and Shell-Head come off pretty well in videoville!”
The next column pleads, We Need Help, O, True Believer “Clutch your MMMS membership button to your bosom – keep calm, and, above all, don’t fool with your cool!” This leads to a plea for MMMS members to “write and tell us what’s going on among the rank and file of your own cavortin’ chapters!” (The MMMS members had chapters?) Once the members send in their news items, “We’ll print the best of your batty bulletins in each future issue…” Oops.
Page 1 finishes with Introducing: Our Newest Bullpen Bombshell! which is…this very Merry Marvel Messenger. This item recaps what will be in this issue including a repeat of the item we just read. “You send us the news, and we’ll do our best to print it – right on the pages of this, your exclusive club bulletin! But, we’ll tell you how to go about sending in your nutty news elsewhere in this frantic first ish!” Yeah, Stan, you already did.
Page 2 begins with Stop the Press!, an announcement of the upcoming 1967 Annuals. “First there’ll be two brand new blockbusters – The Avengers and Daredevil – in addition to Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Sgt. Fury, and (for you distaff devotees) Millie the Model (who’s she?)! Now, brace yourselves for the biggest news of all! We’re gonna pack each king-size super-hero ish with extra-long original spectaculars, and lots of new feature pages – just like you’ve been demanding!” Good thing I braced myself for that news!
Marvel Trivia is next; an 18 question quiz, created by Jivin’ John Furutani of Fair Lawn, New Jersey. “And ten lashes with a strand of wet spaghetti for any dyed-in-the-wool Marvelite who misses a single question!” Interestingly, 4 of the questions involve either Nick Fury or Dum Dum Dugan. I guess Jivin’ John was a big Sgt. Fury fan. There is only one Spidey question, although it is question #1. “What was the name of Peter Parker’s uncle?” I think we all know it is “Benjamin Parker!”
Speak Your Minds, Marvel Maniacs is nothing more than a request for readers to write in and say which recent characters they like or dislike. Or as Stan puts it, “Chaos in Washington! Turmoil in the United Nations! Confusion throughout the universe! Burnt toast in Aunt Petunia’s oven! Why? Because your Bullpen Braintrust hasn’t heard what you think of the latest additions to our ever-increasing case of villains, heroes and supporting characters!” The only Spidey character mentioned is “Mary Jane Watson,” which means Stan is counting MJ as new from the time her face is shown in Amazing Spider-Man #42, November 1966 rather than her original appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #25, June 1965.
Page 3 is dominated by Meet Jack Kirby – The First of a Series of Belated Bullpen Biographies. Jack himself likely wrote this piece. It also assumes a jaunty Bullpen-y air but with a different tone than Stan’s usual banter. “And thus I was born, amidst questions…questions…’Can it be a Leprechaun?’ asked Mrs. Rafferty, ‘A Prince of the Blood, maybe?’ laughed Mrs. Goldberg, ‘Not that anemic runt,’ replied the good doctor as he shot a compassionate glance at my mother and handed my father the bill.” What’s interesting about this item is that Jack manages to mention his time as an inbetweener at Max Fleischer studios, his time in World War II and nearly every comic he created or co-created with Joe Simon as well as his work at DC with Green Arrow and the Challengers of the Unknown and his syndicated strip Sky Masters. But he mentions no 60s Marvel work by name. He also seems to be quite fond of Stan but clearly doesn’t see him as a boss. “I was producing at a furious rate. I remember slowing down only once, when a young rapscallion, peering into my cubicle suggested that I show more of Cap’s home life, his aged, kindly mother, his wicked Aunt Agatha, and the stark heart-rending background of Cap’s early years. ‘Begone!’ I cried, sorely put to drubbing him. ‘Take off and become an editor or something!’ Well, by golly, he did. But before he got the name Stan Lee on his office door, I was busily engaged elsewhere.” And, “Returning to Marvel Comics was like re-entering the Halls of Ivy. In charge of comics was that young rascal, and now, a bit of an older rascal, Stan Lee. We now share ideas, laughs, and stubby cigars.” Jack finishes with, “To put it concisely, you name it, I’ve done it – but fairly.”
Sneak Previews for MMMS’ers Only finishes page 3 and takes up more than half of page 4. “What? You say ya didn’t believe us when we said we were gonna clue in MMMS members about info that wouldn’t be printed in our regular Bullpen Bulletins? Then hang in there – ‘cause when we promise you somethin’, we ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie!” Then sneak previews of the FF, Spidey, Avengers, X-Men, Daredevil, Thor, Strange Tales, Tales of Suspense, and Tales to Astonish follow. None of them seem particularly juicy but that may be because these previews are all about comics that were published 50 years ago. See what you think. Here’s the lowdown on “Spider-Man: We think you’ll flip when everybody’s favorite web-slinger gets amnesia and pulls a couple of capers so shady that it finally looks like ol’ JJJ might have been right all along! Or was he? And you can bet your go-go boots that the classiest chicks who ever wiggled a Watusi are gonna be around for a long time to come! (If we ever try to get rid of Gwen, M.J., etc. – Jazzy Johnny Romita would probably lead a protest march against us!)” The “amnesia” refers to the Doc Ock story we’ll eventually get back to but the rest is just fluff. (Though the promise to keep Gwen around seems slightly awkward today.) So, no great secrets revealed to the MMMS’ers, really.
We wrap up on page 4 with Marvel Scoop! comprised of 3 scoops. (Insert your ice cream joke here.) These are a bit better than the sneak previews. First, “Negotiations are now in the final stages with a major network to air Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man and the frankly fabulous Fantastic Four next fall in full-animation and blushin’ color!” Second, “”We’ve just wrapped up a dauntless deal with Universal Studios to feature our happy-go-lucky heroes all over their fabulous film lot – which is open to visitors the year ‘round!” Third, there will be a “brand-new MMMS membership kit - and we think that’s about the most startling news since Irving Forbush’s ant-farm got broken and the tenants made off with Fabulous Flo Steinberg’s lunch!” The first and third items definitely came to pass but what about the second? Was there a time in the 60s when you could visit Universal studios and “have your picture taken with your favorite Marvel hero – and don’t forget to drop by one of the two Marvel concession stands where you’ll find all the groovy Marvel goodies on sale along with the very latest issues of all our matchless mags!”?
A small box at the bottom of the last column of page 4 wraps it up: “Hope you enjoyed our first surprise ish of the M.M. Messenger! Watch for future ones when you (and we) least expect ‘em! Till then, hang in there, hero – you’re our kinda guy!” Or don’t watch for them. It comes to the same thing.
Actually, it’s a shame that this was the only issue of the Merry Marvel Messenger because it really was a nice thing to do for the MMMS members and it exudes fun and panache, even if it is over the top and doesn’t tell you too much of what you didn’t already know. Kudos to Stan and the Bullpen for putting this together all those years ago. They certainly didn’t have to bother. It does show how fan-friendly and accessible Marvel was when they were still the David among Goliaths.
Like the Rosetta Stone, the Messenger is more historical for what it is rather than what it says. (A bombastic comparison worthy of Stan, if I do say so myself.) So, is it worth having in your collection? Yee-ahh, if you like odd little items like this. By all means, track one down. But, in this case, the coolness does not trump the skimpiness of the material. I’m going to give this one 2 webs..
We’re getting closer! Next is a real oddity. The Kenner Marvel Super-Heroes See-A-Show Stereo Viewer!