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September 20, 2006

Seeing as how my last article on comic book ads garnered such a positive response, and considering that several people asked me to write more, I delved back into my comic collection for some more vintage ads. This time, instead of looking at weird and wacky products, we're going to examine something a little more disturbing: Marvel characters promoting various companies and causes.

From Star Wars #86 (Aug 1984)

Let's start with a good-old fashioned cereal promotion, this one featuring a rather articulate Hulk. I'm pretty sure this predates his smartification in the actual Hulk book by Peter David, which means that the Hulk must have been putting on a dumb act all along. He's kind of like the reverse of the singing Warner Bros frog... try talkin' to him on the street and all you get is 'Hulk crush puny human!'. Put him in a room with a couple of advertising execs and he'll start reciting the fucking Hamlet soliloquy.

It's either that or the greysuited ad men who put this together simply had no idea about the character, but I'll stick with my theory, cos I like the idea of the Hulk performing Shakespeare.

The thing about this offer is that Marvel Comics only cost 60c in those days, and you could just buy 'em off the spinner at the same grocery or convenience store you were buying the Cookie-Crisp cereal at anyway, so it would be far easier and cheaper to just buy the comics. Still, kids are suckers for anything free, so I bet this was promotion was a huge success.

I'da been pushing the free iron-on patches more than the comics, though, cos anything that lets you customize plain ol' blue jeans is awesome in my book. Remember the days when kids would get pleasure out of ironing stuff onto their jeans, putting glitter glue on their t-shirts, or even changing the colour of their shoelaces? Simpler times.

From The Avengers #265 (Mar 1986)

It's no surprise that a Captain America broadway show was in the works, cos in the 80s comics professionals were obsessed with raising the cultural capital of comics. Whenever a 'fine' artist dropped by Marvel HQ, or whenever a Marvel writer had a novel published, it was pretty much worthy of a half-page spread on the Bullpen Bulletins page. This was all part of the trend to convince the world that 'comics aren't for kids anymore', which (as we all know) backfired terribly, because now comics aren't for anybody except fat thirty year old men.

It's perhaps even less surprising that the show never came to fruition, which is a shame, cos I think it could've been something special. They would have to hire the people behind the Marvel Comics floats at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parades of the late 80s, cos those were (unintentonal)theatre genius.

The producers were obviously trying to get away from any Batman/Robin style homoerotic subtext by going with a girl instead of a young boy to play Cap's 'special friend'. You know, I always thought Cap was 'more than just soldiers' with Bucky.

And just look at the sheer abandon with which Cap is dancing! That big lug takes to the stage like a fish to water. Forget WWII, Steve Rogers' true calling was vaudeville!

From Marvel Team-Up #150 (Feb 1985)

This one reminds me of those old sales club ads with all the prizes you could get for delivering Grit newspapers or signing people up for life insurance and stuff. Those old ads had a healthy mix of antisocial indoors stuff like video games and TVs with outdoorsy stuff like camping kits and fishing gear. A time when kids were still interested in outdoor pursuits as well as sitting on the couch in front of their game consoles. You would never see fishing rods advertised in a kids' publication these days.

I like the fact that these kids don't seem to be fazed by the fact that they're fishing off the same bridge as Spider-Man. I woulda been like HOLY SHIT IT'S SPIDEY, and probably accidentally hooked someone while trying desperately to impress Spidey with my flawless line casting.

From Defenders #120 (Jun 1983)

I like to think that this ad actually takes place in the Marvel Universe. Hey, they have to pay the rent on the Baxter Building somehow, right? If that's true, then Benjy Grimm is the biggest corporate whore since Michael Jackson. Butchering his personal catchphrase to hawk multi-coloured Chiclets is right up there with "You're the Pepsi generation!"

From Marvel Team-Up #149 (Jan 1985)

This one is for Marvel's Try-Out book, which was released so that wannabe comics pros could have their stuff seen by Marvel. The only person of note to come out of the project was Mark Bagley, who won the pencilling portion of the contest and has gone on to have quite a successful career, working on New Warriors in the 90s, and more recently on Ultimate Spider-Man.

I like this ad because it features Jim Shooter, former Editor-in-Chief at Marvel. He's one of the main reasons Marvel kicked so much ass in the 80s (before he was shafted out of the position by backstabbers and corporate types). Jim's a big presence in all of these old comics, due to his writing the Bullpen Bulletins page that appeared every month. It's nice to see him rendered in four-color.

And I can totally believe Spidey would enter this contest. He's always after some extra cash.

From New Mutants #57 (Nov 1987)

There is just so much to mock in this ad, I think smoke's gonna start coming outta my ears.

"Humongous rock star of the universe"?! I'd expect that kinda sentence construction from a 2nd grader. And is 'humongous' literal, or figural? I'm gonna say literal. Dude's fat!

Probably the most annoying thing about this ad is that Meatloaf thinks in the first panel, but then speaks aloud to the crowd in the second. How do they know what's he's talking about when he asks for their help? Are they all telepaths? Is Meatloaf doing a gig on some kind of planet of telepaths? And if so, why is he thinking about Special Olympians?

Oh, I get it! He didn't want the telepaths being able to read his thoughts, so he filled his head with the first nonsense thing that came into his head. Special Olympians! Nice to know you think disabled athletes are funny, asshole. Well, I guess they kinda are.

This plays out like a classic PSA, as a whole bunch of Marvel heroes and kids turn up and offer their support. I love how in advertising and PSAs superheroes just hang out with kids like it's the most normal thing in the world. That was totally acceptable until Michael Jackson screwed it up for everybody.

From The Mighty Thor #357 (Jul 1985)

This harks back to a time when space was still viewed romantically as the next great arena of human endeavour (a 'final frontier', if you will). Of course, no-one gives a fuck about space anymore, but those of us who do will always have movies like 'The Last Starfighter', 'E.T.', and 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'.

The ad is sooooo schmaltzy, but I can't help liking it. The blue starfield and the shadowed figures of Cap and the kids is just so simple and beautiful a tableau.

Of course, the presence of Captain America, the Super-Soldier, promoting a youth organisation could bring up unfortunate associations for those who choose to read into these things. I'm talkin' Hitler Youth.

The 'Young Astronaut' program does sound kinda cool, I must admit. Kinda like Scouts for nerdy kids who would probably die if they came into contact with ivy. Unlike the Scouts, though, who get to go into their habitat of choice every other weekend, there's no chance for Young Astronauts to go on a space camping trip. And as soon as I said 'space camping trip' I had a mental image of kids in Jetsons-style clothing sitting around a crater on Mars, roasting marshmallows. Awesome.

And I'll leave you with that image. Hope you enjoyed the article.

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