Face Front! You're on the Winning Team!

It's hard to explain how great it was to read Marvel Comics in the mid-to-late 60's. Comic book fans can, of course, still read the comics from then, but that's a very different thing from actually reading them back then, especially as a 10-to-15-year-old boy. At least I like to think so. Stan Lee (Stanley Lieber), the guiding force behind Marvel, was editor-in-chief, the primary writer and, in a very important role that has only recently been given enough attention, art director. Above all else, Stan set the tone for Marvel Comics. Never talking down to kids, the Marvel milieu was grittier and based more in the real world than the competition's comic books, yet there was an infectiously upbeat, humorous and optimistic attitude that permeated everything.

Stan created a self-serving fan club, called The Merry Marvel Marching Society. Membership originally cost a dollar, too rich for my blood at the time, but when the price dropped to 69 I eagerly joined the ranks. There were a bunch of premiums that came with the membership kits. Most prized by fans were two single-sided "Flexidisk" records. The first record was, "The Voices of Marvel." Listening to it now, as a world-weary grown-up, it's notable in a number of ways, in part because many of those voices are now gone; chief among them, the legendary artist and creative dynamo, Jack Kirby (Jacob Kurtzberg). The story behind Jack's split from Stan is long, and it will eventually be told in its entirety by Mark Evanier (Mark Evanier) who is, between many other projects, writing a biography of Jack.

What's interesting to me about "The Voices of Marvel," which you can hear by clicking the picture of the record's cover to the left, is that the script, written by Stan, characterizes Kirby as typically being in a bad mood. Stan's perception was, apparently, that Jack was a grumpy guy, perhaps making Stan's use of the "Jolly Jack" nickname ironic, if not sarcastic. (Later, Stan always referred to Jack with the more complimentary title of "King Kirby.") I'm probably reading too much into this, but it's almost as if, even back then, at the point Marvel was only just starting to reach its creative peak, there were already some cracks between Stan and Jack starting to show. The reference Stan makes to Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko jumping out the window was supposed to be due to his close association with Spidey, but in fact Ditko bailed out of Marvel months later, over disagreements with Stan. Inker Chic Stone was also gone not too long afterwards, and Stan actually says on the recording, "we're gonna miss Chic around here!" (Chic had a great voice, and with a little bit of training he could have been a professional announcer.) Artist Wally Wood, who makes a very funny on-mike appearance, didn't last long, either. Stan yells at him for being too talkative. As a kid, I thought this was all in good fun, but now it seems more like I failed to pick up on a side of Stan's personality that everybody in the so-called Marvel Bullpen knew very well — Stan as Boss!

Another voice making an appearance on the record is that of Stan's secretary, Flo Steinberg, who left Marvel a few years later. I must make special mention of Flo, whose endearing New York-tinged Boston accent is unmistakable and unique.  Flo's presence added a special something to the Marvel mix, and she contributed more to the magic of those years than I think Stan realized.  Half of issue #18 of the magazine Comic Book Artist is devoted to Fabulous Flo. Editor Jon Cooke, who's around my age, really goes overboard in his adoration of Flo. Thank you, Jon, for making sure Flo knows how we all feel about her. Any man who was a Marvel Comics fanboy back then knows where Jon is coming from. Oh, the shock and concern that month in 1968 when, for the first time, there were no answers printed on the letters pages. We knew it could mean only one thing, and it wasn't good. The Marvel Bullpen just wasn't the same after that. We love you, Flo!

The second record that was released as a premium for MMMS members was, "Scream Along with Marvel." Click the picture of the record cover to hear it for yourself. This record includes what I think were the opening and closing theme songs to the ultra-low budget, but always enjoyable, Marvel Super Heroes syndicated TV show. These songs are silly, to be sure, but what's interesting to me now is the idea that somebody had to actually write the tunes, arrange the music, and conduct the orchestra. The drawing of the Hulk was done for the record jacket by Marie Severin. Isn't it obvious? The animation for the TV show was nearly non-existent, but the voices and the music were great, and as bad as the animation was, many of the pictures were based on original drawings from the comic books. The dialogue was taken almost verbatim from the comics, so it was easy to read along while watching the shows.  The voice of The Mighty Thor was exceptionally good for such a cheapie cartoon.  It was performed by English-born actor Chris Wiggins.  Another voice heard in the cartoons from this series was the late actor John Vernon, who did Iron Man and The Sub-Mariner. Click on the picture of regal Odin (scanned from an old View-Master slide), Ruler Supreme of Fabled Asgard, to watch Battle of the Gods!  Odin's voice belongs to Bernard Cowan, who was also the narrator.