Starting in the spring of 1966 Marvel released its double-sized specials, timed to sell at a peak period for the comics industry. It was prompted by the winding down of the school year with the understanding that kids generally had more leisure time and additional spending capital (accrued by performing various entrepreneurial pursuits) during the seemingly endless summer. These expanded publications were originally called Annuals - an appellation most fans still commonly use. Beginning in '66 they were labeled "King-Size Specials." I have no idea why the change occurred; perhaps publisher Martin Goodman felt children didn't understand what the word Annual meant. If so, "Giant-Size" might have been a better term. Either way, they were supplements to Marvel's regular monthly titles. With spare change in their pockets, youngsters could now choose to indulge in the delights offered by Marvel's summer extravaganzas.
A look at the evolving design and titling of Marvel's Annuals. The top banner and corner box was tweaked from 1964-66. The first example was standard for the first three years. The middle tier initiated the "King-Size" appellation while retaining the word "Annual." The '66 version excised the word entirely (Lee and company couldn't even keep it straight and continued to call them Annuals on the Bullpen page!). In 1965 the corner box, which used to profile the starring character(s) was supplanted with the proclamation: "72 Big Pages" or "More Pages! More Thrills!" (as an aside I should note that Lee used the phrase: "The World's Greatest Annual" on the cover of # 2, which I like so much that I'm thinking of re-titling "Marvel Mysteries and Comics Minutia" to "The World's Greatest Comics Blog!")
The 1966 line-up differed slightly from the previous year. Marvel-Super Heroes was a new addition taking the place of Marvel Tales. Thor Special # 2 continued the numbering sequence of 1965's Journey into Mystery Annual # 1 (see a detailed account below.) And one Special apparently was never published as such - but more on that mystery later.
An explanatory note for the uninitiated (or, as Groucho Marx stated when he looked into the camera in the 1932 movie Horse Feathers: "I've got to stay here, but there's no reason why you folks shouldn't go out into the lobby until this blows over.") Thor's escalation in popularity grew in just a few short years - as seen by these cover examples. Thor began as the lead feature in Journey into Mystery # 83, August 1962. The title had a long history as a fantasy/monster/anthology comic. With # 97 "Tales of Asgard," debuted, focusing exclusively on the mythological gods in ongoing, five page stories. Short fantasy vignettes continued to appear as back-ups until issue # 104, May 1964. Since Thor was now appearing in both the opening and second feature it was finally decided that Journey into Mystery was an unnecessary title. The March, 1966-dated issue was now simply called Thor, with the numbering continuing from JIM (which probably had some collectors back in those days thinking they had to collect every Thor story dating back to JIM # 1!) Since I'm a completist (or obsessed - take your pick!) I'll note that Journey into Mystery was revived as a title briefly in 1972, returning to its fantasy roots. After writing this paragraph I'm having second thoughts about re-titling this blog: "The World's Greatest Comics Blog!" Perhaps "Journey into Minutiae" is more apropos!
The release schedule amounted to two specials per month. June debuted Sgt. Fury and Millie the Model. While it might seem odd in retrospect, since Marvel's focus at that time was on super-heroes, other genres remained quite popular with a general audience. When Marvel initiated their Annual line in 1962 Millie was at the forefront (the other title being Strange Tales.) No new material was featured in her 5th excursion, likely due to time constraints. Although Millie had been around since the 1940s the series had recently undergone a transition from humor to dramatic, soap opera-oriented stories; therefore it was determined to reprint the type of features more in-line with current sensibilities.Millie's Special was similar in appearance to Marvel's other 1966 publications. The only alterations were the top banner ("Queen " replacing "King") and the upper-left hand corner box that read: "More Pages! More Glamor!" Since Millie was not combating any super-villains or engaged in hand-to-hand combat with Nazis, it kinda' made sense! Its worth noting that advertising in Millie's Special catered specifically to girls' interests and differed from the toy soldiers and monster posters being sold between the pages of the testosterone-filled superhero and western heroics. Stan Golberg cover art (and likely coloring); Sam Rosen lettering.
Millie was still quite popular in 1966, being featured in two titles (Millie the Model and Modeling with Millie) of which material for this special had been culled. Stan Lee story; Stan Goldberg co-plot and art; Sol Brodsky inks; Sam Rosen lettering and coloring likely by Goldberg.
One aspect of Millie (and Marvel's other girl-oriented comics, including Patsy and Hedy) that appealed to its predominantly female audience - although boys also contributed - was the creative involvement afforded readers. Anyone so inclined could design clothing and dresses for the characters and be acknowledged in print. This was a staple of not just the feature pages, such as the one pictured above, but included throughout every story. On various occasions artist Stan Goldberg proudly recounted that, in later years, a number of fans approached him at conventions, explaining how they were inspired to pursue a career in fashion because of Millie's collaborative efforts.
Also on sale June 9th in most US cities was Sgt. Fury Special # 2. In the space of a few years the war mag had become one of Marvel's best sellers. Roy Thomas, who had recently taken over the scripting of the monthly title from Stan Lee (beginning with # 27, five months earlier) did the honors here, accompanied by the regular artistic team of Dick Ayers on pencils and John Tartaglione on inks. The 25 page tale focused on an important date in history, June 6th, 1944, when the allied invasion of Normandy, codenamed D-Day, took place.
The formatting of Specials, offering a new lead story backed-up by two earlier tales, continued in the same vein as the previous year. A representation of SF # 11 was followed by the debut tale of "Nick Fury, Agent of Shield," then barely a year old, in the hope of getting fans of the war mag interested in his present-day secret agent capers which were currently appearing in Strange Tales.
Stan Lee used the last page to promote both the monthly Fury title and Strange Tales.
July saw the arrival of Thor Special # 2 in candy stores. Clocking in at 30 pages, it was the longest new-material work published in 1966. Page lengths in the Specials varied this year, likely based on scheduling and availability of the creative team. Also lacking were the extra features and pin-up pages that permeated the early Annuals (only a few were crafted the previous year.)
Lee and Kirby presented a story which took place entirely in the realm of Asgard, with Thor fighting alongside Odin and his compatriots (Fandrall, Hogun and Volstagg) against the Destroyer. There was no sign of Thor's frail alter-ego, Dr. Don Blake, nor much need to deal with earthly concerns. At this point Lee and Kirby seemed comfortable creating a fantasy environment that fans reveled in.
Thor Special # 2. Jack Kirby pencils; Vince Colletta inks; Artie Simek and Morrie Kuramoto lettering; Stan Goldberg colors? All covers featured vignettes previewing the reprinted stories.
Marvel Super-Heroes also debuted in July, a title that effectively replaced Marvel Tales on the schedule. After the first two Annuals MT became an ongoing, bi-monthly series, featuring early tales of Spider-Man, Thor, Human Torch and Ant-Man. This special reprinted Daredevil # 1 (then just two years old) by Lee and Bill Everett; Avengers # 2 by Lee, Kirby and Paul Reinman and a Golden Age (aka 1940s Timely-era) battle between the original Human Torch and Sub-Mariner by Everett and Carl Burgos. Martin Goodman likely ordered the title as a tie-in to the cartoon series debuting in September. While only three of the heroes featured in the Special (Thor, Iron Man and Sub-Mariner) would be starring on the Marvel Superheroes show, it was probably important for Goodman to trademark the title.
Marvel Super-Heroes Special # 1 had a cover composed of interior art, thus saving expenses on paying for a new cover. Pencils by Bill Everett, Jack Kirby and Carl Burgos; inks by Paul Reinman, Burgos and Everett, with touch-ups likely by Marie Severin. Lettering by the ever-talented Sam Rosen and coloring (possibly) by Stan Goldberg.
All the Specials (with the exception of Millie) included a Table of Contents on the inside front cover, a space usually reserved for advertising. The artwork was taken from interior stories, with graytones and touch-ups by Marie Severin. While Lee often mentioned the office staff in the Bullpen Bulletins page, the extra space allowed him to give them further credit, including Sol Brodsky, Flo Steinberg and Denny O'Neil.
At the conclusion of the first confrontation between the original Human Torch and Sub-Mariner, reprinted from Marvel Mystery Comics # 8, June 1940, an editorial note (signed "Stentorian Stan" but likely written by Associate Editor Roy Thomas) mentions the current incarnations of those characters. Art by Carl Burgos and Bill Everett.
Also included in MSH was Stan Lee's first text story for Goodman's line, with illustrations by Jack Kirby.
In August two of Marvel's best selling characters were given the spotlight. Amazing Spider-Man Special # 3 had the wall-crawler attempting to join the Avengers. This appealed to fans who enjoyed crossovers, although the plot was standard-fare and illogical (Peter Parker was a college student, so how could he possibly be available upon a moment's notice to assist the team?) Spidey was tasked to find the Hulk, but deliberately flunked the test when he discovered Bruce Banner's tragic circumstances. It was a fun story, especially for readers who loved the abundance of colorful heroes, but there was another scenario that almost occurred.Amazing Spider-Man Special # 3. John Romita pencils; Mike Esposito inks; Sam Rosen lettering; Stan Goldberg colors?
In Steve Ditko's essay "Why I quit S-M, Marvel" (The Four-Page Series No. 9, September 2015) the artist explained:
"One day I got a call from Sol [Brodsky, Marvel's Production manager]. The next S-M Annual is coming up. Okay."
"Why should I continue to do all these monthly issues, original story ideas, material, for a man [Stan Lee] who is too scared, too angry over something, to even see, talk to me? "
"At some point I decided to quit Marvel, S-M, DS [Doctor Strange]."
That call from Brodsky would obviously have been in reference to the third Special.Steve Ditko had departed Marvel many months before Amazing Spider-Man Special # 3 was on-sale, but his work was represented via reprints of ASM #'s 11-12.
A little background for those not familiar with the behind the scenes details. According to Ditko, Stan Lee had stopped communicating with him on storylines sometime around ASM # 25. For his last year at Marvel Ditko was solo plotting both Spider-Man and "Doctor Strange", with Lee supplying the dialogue and editing. For a freelance artist this could be a tenuous situation.
No one knows what kind of story Ditko would have conceived, but I'd put my money on it being something unique and memorable. Working out the details on his own (Brodsky would have relayed how many pages were allotted) the likelihood of guest-stars was practically nil. When Ditko began plotting Spider-Man solo, the Human Torch, The Hulk, Daredevil and other Marvel characters vanished. Lee enjoyed intermingling and cross-pollinating the line; Ditko believed a hero should be able to solve his own problems and that cameos by others weakened the important role of supporting characters and ongoing storylines. One can wonder, though, what a third Steve Ditko Spider-Man Special might have been...
(to read my ruminations on Ditko's extraordinary Annual efforts you don't have to be tech savvy to find them. For the first post click here: https://nick-caputo.blogspot.com/2014/07/50-summers-ago-amazing-spider-man.html and then click on the "feature post" on the right side for the second post)
Fantastic Four Special showcased the premiere title in Marvel's line. The story featured the return of the Original Human Torch, including a look back at his beginnings. His inclusion was almost certainly a dictate from Martin Goodman, who wanted to secure the copyright. Carl Burgos created the popular hero for Goodman's first publication, Marvel Comics, in 1939. For nearly two decades Burgos plied his trade as an artist for Timely/Atlas and was their unofficial cover editor during the 1950s. He briefly returned to work for Lee in the 1960s, including a story featuring the Lee-Kirby Human Torch in Strange Tales, but in 1966 Burgos reportedly instigated a lawsuit for the rights to his creation. In defiance Goodman countered by reintroducing Burgos' character in two of Marvel's Specials (the aforementioned Marvel-Super-Heroes and FF, as seen below) following-up four months later by reprinting early stories - and emphasizing the flaming android on covers in Fantasy Masterpieces, starting with issue # 7.
FF Special # 4. Jack Kirby pencils; Joe Sinnott inks; Sam Rosen letters; Stan Goldberg
One of the special treats for many fans was the reprinting of Fantastic Four #'s 25-26, which detailed the team's battle with the Hulk. There was much drama, action and excitement to be had, as the FF fought valiantly against an unstoppable foe, with the Avengers coming aboard in the concluding chapter. Although the story was only a few years old, it spoke of an earlier era, and a time when back issues were hard to acquire. This gave the stories an almost mythical status, and neighborhood friends who had the original issues would be looked on in awe - those comics coveted as much as a rare coin or baseball card.
Marvel's mighty misanthropes slug it out! For many kids of the era, the Thing-Hulk battle was more thrilling than the opening story. Stan Lee plot-dialogue; Jack Kirby co-plot-art; George Roussos inks; Sam Rosen lettering and Stan Goldberg coloring. Note the bottom promo for the Marvel Super-Heroes cartoon.
While those were all the Specials published by Marvel in 1966, its not quite the end of the story. A mystery takes shape in the form of a title that looks like every other Special...except that it's not.
Kid Colt Outlaw, a long-running, popular western title, appears to have been slated for "King-Size Special" status. The September-dated issue, # 130 (on stands in June) is priced at 25 cents instead of the usual 12 cents, and the cover format is the same composition as the Spider-Man, Thor, and Sgt. Fury Specials. Which begs the question: was it intended to be a Special? And if so, why did it not appear as such? The answer is open to speculation but may be quite elementary (to quote Sherlock Holmes.)
Kid Colt Outlaw # 130. Note the corner box labeled "Kid Colt Special," and the vignettes depicting scenes from the interior tales; in exactly the same style as the other 25 cent titles. Jack Keller art; Sam Rosen lettering; Stan Goldberg coloring ?
Martin Goodman had an agreement with his distributor, Independent News, which limited him to a set number of titles. In this period it alternated on a bi-monthly basis. For example, Marvel had 14 comics on stands in March, 1966 and 16 in April of '66. During the summer months, however, Goodman was allowed approximately 2-3 extra issues in order to take advantage of peak sales. It is possible that Independent limited the number of 25 cent specials as well. In the two previous years, six Annuals were on the schedule; the same number as in 1966. I suspect that Goodman attempted to add a seventh and was denied; if so, the material prepared for the Special was easily shoehorned into the monthly title by making it a 25 center, but there is yet another puzzle.
Kid Colt Outlaw # 130 featured all-reprint material, including a look at how he became labeled an outlaw. Originally from KCO # 79, July 1958. Stan Lee story; Jack Keller pencils; Christopher Rule inks; Joe Letterese letters and Stan Goldberg colors.
The following two issues of Kid Colt (# 131-132, November 1966; January 1967) were also double-length, 25 centers. Then, without fanfare, the title reverted back to standard format, with no mention of the change. It's possible that Independent News balked at Goodman producing another 25 cent comic, perhaps limiting him to three bi-monthlies (Fantasy Masterpieces, Marvel Tales and Marvel Collector's Item Classics). They might not have wanted more competition with DC's oversized titles. A minor mystery, admittedly, but one lost to the mists of time.
This journey back to a period when comics and summer exploded in an almost magical kaleidoscope of exuberance is no doubt tinged with melancholy, particularly for those who lived through it, and were young. Nevertheless I believe many of these comics are worthy of continued discussion and analysis - which is a testament to the creators who envisioned them all those years ago.
To read all of Steve Ditko's Essays in the Four Page Series, including the complete text of "Why I Quit S-M, Marvel" go here: https://www.amazon.com/Complete-Four-Page-Other-Essays-Complains/dp/1945307269/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Steve+Ditko+four+page+series&qid=1623282010&sr=8-1