|The iconic poster for Goldfinger. Inset: Bond discovers the body of Jill |
Masterson, while Oddjob prepares for some millinery mayhem.
Anyhow, the movie was a massive hit, both in the UK and in the US, and the picture recouped its budget in a couple of weeks, spawning all kinds of imitators. Even though kids loved James Bond, the movies were pitched very much at an adult audience. So it was a bit of a surprise when UK toy manufacturer Corgi released a die-cast metal model of the Bond DB5, complete with extending machine guns, rear bulletproof shield and passenger ejector seat. Obviously, I had to have it and eventually persuaded my parents to buy me one.
|Is this the coolest toy on the planet? Even though my original was long-gone, I tracked |
one down on eBay, because no one should have to live without a Corgi James Bond car.
|Something that U.N.C.L.E. had that Bond didn't was a really cool logo. This is one of|
my all-time favourite logos and is instantly recognisable at whatever size you see it.
Here, Solo models the elegant U.N.C.L.E. gun while Illya handles the scary THRUSH rifle like he
was born to it. Inset: The U.N.C.L.E. membership card, and the car which debuted in the fourth season.
What has all this to do with Stan Lee's Marvel Comics? Well, so far-reaching was the influence of espionage organisations with cool acronyms that Stan decided that Marvel, too, should have a team of super-spies, and drafted the now-promoted Sgt Fury (of Howling Commandos fame) to spearhead a new counter-espionage division called S.H.I.E.L.D. The hi-tech gadgetry would initially be supplied by Tony Stark, and Fury and his team would battle rogue organisations like Hydra and A.I.M.
I remember my first S.H.I.E.L.D. comic as being Strange Tales 139. I was coming in in the middle of a story and so was understandably confused by the storyline. But here was a comic that bore more than a passing resemblance to my beloved U.N.C.L.E. show ... and it had even cooler gadgets. I quickly tracked down the earlier issues of Strange Tales and thrilled to the exploits of Fury as he - along with the rest of us - discovered the wonders of L.M.D.s, the jaw-dropping S.H.I.E.L.D. heli-carrier and a Porche 904 with anti-grav wheels.
|From the first instalment of Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Fury learns the name of the|
outfit looking to hire him and gets a taste of the equipment they have at their disposal.
The Merry Marvel Marching SocietyThe earliest mention of the MMMS that I could find was in the November 1964 issue of Fantastic Four. Right at the very end of the Announcements section, Stan posed the question, "While you're counting the minutes till F.F.#33, see if you can guess what M.M.M.S. stands for?" Okay, technically not actually a query, question mark notwithstanding, but an effective teaser. I wouldn't have seen this clue at the time, as FF32 wasn't distributed in UK newsagents for the reasons explained in my 7 September post. The following month, Stan revealed what the initials stood for and added, "It's a new club we're forming in answer to all you congenital joiners who've been asking for it." There was an update in FF34, when Stan included a box to the letters page that revealed more.
Then finally, in FF35, Marvel took the wraps off its grand endeavour. In retrospect, it looks like a pretty good deal. That's a lot of stuff you get for "one measly buck". I didn't know that earlier comic clubs had charged just the price of a comic to join. But at the time, I didn't really have a burning desire to be a Merry Marcher, even if I could have found a way to send Stan a dollar.
|This tantalising ad appeared in FF 36 and listed all the goodies you got for your |
"hard-earned buck" - badge, stickers, certificate, membership card and - intriguingly
- a record of the Bullpen welcoming you to the MMMS.
|This is what you got for your ten cents way back in 1939. Pretty good deal,|
considering that the ring alone goes for over $10,000 in mint condition.
|The Junior Justice Society was a bit more activity-based, urging members to collect |
war stamps, and to organise "Victory Clubs" to help with the war effort.
|The EC Fan-Addicts kit, characterised by the same (jugular) vein|
of humour that ran through the comics.
The different between this and other fan clubs was that the monthly Marvel Bullpen Bulletins Page in the comics became the club's unofficial monthly newsletter - and you didn't even have to join the club to enjoy it.
The first Bulletins pages were in the December 1965 issues and were tailored to the individual comics they appeared in, so the FF Bulletins was slightly different to the Strange Tales one.
|Play "Spot the Difference" - the page on the left is from FF45 and one the left is from Strange Tales 139. |
Each page has been slightly altered for its title and the FF page doesn't list FF45 in the Checklist.
|The Bullpen page is from Strange Tales again. But in FF46, Stan included a dedicated |
merchandising page for the tee-shirts, the Marvel stationery and the life-size Spidey poster.
The third Bullpen page, published in the February 1966 Marvels, made one small change. It was no longer tailored to each individual comic title. Stan must have realised that it was way too much bother to customise each incarnation of the page. It's doubtful that most Marvelites (for that is what we were being called by this time) even realised each title's Bulletins page was different. The giveaway is that the Checklist is now the same in every title, so FF47 contained a Checklist entry for FF47, and so on.
|By this time (Feb 1966) the Announcements have squeezed everything else off the page.|
And the Checklist is the same whichever Marvel book the page appears in.
And for me, the genius of Stan Lee wasn't so much in the cracking stories, the unique characterisation or the dynamic storytelling - it was the editorial package that surrounded the stories. Lee instinctively knew that success lay in making all his readers feel part of a tribe, that their voices were listened to and that affable and jokey was exactly what his customers were looking for. In fact, today's management consultants could learn a lot from how Marvel became a 1960s publishing phenomenon. Stan always insisted this wasn't cynical planning on his part. He was just giving readers what he'd want if he'd been a comics reader.
In an interview in 2000, Stan Lee explained the rationale for this approach. When asked if he was consciously trying to foster a personal involvement in the books among his readers he replied, "That's what I wanted. I realized later – I wasn't conscious of it at the time – that I had treated the whole thing like an advertising campaign. I mean, we had catchwords like 'Make Mine Marvel', 'Marvel Marches On', 'Welcome to the Marvel Age of Comics', and the club – the Merry Marvel Marching Society – 'We don't know where we're marching to, but we're on the way'. It was all done tongue-in-cheek with a little humor, and I wanted the readers to feel as though we're all sharing an in-joke together that the outside world just isn't even aware of. It was almost the same feeling as Mad magazine – we obviously weren't a group of humor books, but I think we had that same feeling."
It wasn't a difficult concept to understand. And Stan was very open about it, in the replies to the readers' letters and on the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins pages. It was all geared towards making the reader feel like a part of the gang, a tribal thing, something DC, Tower Comics or the lamentable Mighty Comics Group didn't seem able to grasp.
And for those of us who couldn't join the M.M.M.S., we still had the Bullpen pages in the comics. I enjoyed them so much that, by the late 1960s, I would actually turn to the Bullpen page first, a stark contrast to how I would approach a comic when I first started reading them.
Next: Separated at Birth - a comic covers special