Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Giant Superhero Holiday Grab-Bag

As all right thinking people know, by far the best way to get your comic fix at Xmas is in the form of a Giant Treasury Edition, and Marvel did three of the best ones with these beauties. Yeah, these are really just big reprints, but man were they cool. The first Deluxe Edition Of Marvel's Mightiest Heroes comes with a bit of an odd cover. You expect The Hulk to be growling all year round, but you'd think Benjamin J. Grimm could muster up a seasonal smile. Not to mention Cap. Cheer up, fella's, it's Xmas!

Pretty sure I had every one of these babies ( or maybe Sean did and I just read his copies a lot ) so 'scuse if I get anything wrong here. Relying on 30 year old memories ( and The Grand Comic Book Database! ) is always more fun anyways.
The Grab-Bags, on reflection, are more than a little odd, certainly in the choice of stories they re-introduced. They seem like a weird mix of undisputed greatness and...hey, what's that doing here? Cutting between tales of Marvel's superstars while making room for the minor leaguers, they certainly did what it said on the tin. The first one, for instance, released for Crimbo '74, plays it safe with the big names, like Spidey & The Torch taking on The Sandman in one of those early Team-Ups that all blur into one in my memory. Though this tale does have the unusual twist of our heroes going easy on Sandy as he just wants to deliver a present to his ailing mum. Makes you feel all warm inside, don't it?

Then there's one of Wally Wood's many finest hours, and apparently Stan Lee's favourite Marvel comic of all time: Daredevil 7, where DD takes on Subby, and gets his ass handed to him on a plate for his trouble. One of the true greats of the early Marvel's, this issue sold me on Hornhead for life as, no matter how many times Namor kicks him to the ground, the hopelessly outclassed DD keeps getting back up for more.

But hang on, what's the Black Widow doing in here? Don't get me wrong, if Natasha Romanoff was real, I'd marry her, but a major leaguer? Not a chance. Still, Gene Colan's drawing it, so what the hey.

And finally, there's this two-parter, where both the F.F. and The Avengers take on Ol' Greenskin. Obviously, we needed a huge great superhero fight in the inaugural Grab-Bag, but I never thought much of this story, especially with George Bell's ham-fisted looking inking job over The King's pencils. Surely there were better slug-fests to pick from, even at this early stage.

The next Xmas treat came in '76, and came with easily the funniest cover of the three books. Of course you'd get Spidey to come to your xmas party, and at a pinch, Doc Strange might show up to do a magic show. And sure, I guess if you were nice to The Hulk and explained it to him really slowly, he might agree to dress up like Santa ( remember Bambi the deer in The Defenders? Hulkie can be calm sometimes ), but a righteous dude like Luke Cage? At some W.A.S.P kids house on Xmas day? When there's poor kid's in the ghetto who ain't got nothin'?! Sweet Sister! No way, baby! And Nick Fury? In his bondage outfit smoking a huge fuck off cigar? What parent in their right mind is gonna let that guy over the doorstep?

Even funnier though is the back cover, as Santa ( or is it Stan? ) sends our heroes out on their Christmas mission to spread good cheer to the world's Marvelites. I love these covers more than life itself, they just epitomise everything that was great about Marvel when we were kids.

Things start weirdly with this issue of Fury's own book, drawn by an artist I still, after all these years, can't be doing with: Frank Springer. I don't remember this story at all, but a quick trip to the GCBD reveals that our Nicholas narrowly avoids an attempt by The Hate-Monger to spread germ warfare across the globe. Fury apparently does this with the off-camera help of one S. Claus. I think we should move on rapidly.

Next up is an equally bizarre Luke Cage where our Lucas gets to utter Christmas! actually at Christmas! coming up against an even more looney tune villain than most who runs some kind of ghost of christmas past, present & future schtick past our bemused hero. Always liked that scene tho' where Cage admits to having to sell papers on Christmas Eve as a kid to: Make Christmas Day that much shinier. That's what was great about Cage, you never forgot how poor he actually was.

Then there's a real early Spidey, reprinted itself from a reprint, Marvel Tales 19, and not the issue of his own book it originally came from. But hey, it's Ditko, maybe it's best not to ask too many questions.

The random placing of the big stars of the line continues with this Hulk story. Interestingly, in both these tales ( according to the GCBD ) each hero spends most of the time hallucinating like motherfuckers. Too much punch, guys?

And to finish things off, here's Doc again, but from his blue face period, which I never understood for a minute, but absolutely appreciated the barking mad weirdness of. Plus there's Eternity, easily the bad guy most likely to make you question your very concept of reality. And you don't get much more Christmassy than that.

On to 1976, and sadly the last Grab-Bag jamboree of fun is here, with a truly wonderful cover from Gil Kane & Joe Sinnott, with back cover to match.

It also had one of the greatest comic strips ever: 'Tis the season, a bridging story that is about nothing more earth-shattering than The Avengers and The F.F. having a snowball fight. Only in the '70's could you get away with something like this, and it makes me smile even now just to think of it.
Another so-so issue of Team-Up opens proceedings proper, principally to get big hitters Spidey & Benjy in there.

But that's more than made up for by this:

With one of the greatest splash panels of John Buscema's or anybody else's career. And at Treasury size it looks even better. I think Rascally Roy was the best writer The Avengers ever had, and I think this story proves it.

Next up, the criminally underrated Marie Severin treats us to a comedy of errors, when Ol' Greenskin tries to hitch a ride off Earth with The Surfer. Hilarity and broken bones ensue.

And finally, DD makes his second xmas appearance, from Gene Colan's epic run on the book, at this point with Gerry Conway scripting. It's a time filling issue, as Matt & Karen split up for the millionth time, so that Conway can get DD together with The Widow and they can move to 'Frisco. Still, I could read Gene Colan drawing a story where DD does origami, and The Ox absolutely rocks here.

This is probably the best of the three Edition's, mostly because of the snowball fight story and Avengers 58, but like I say, even The Savage She-Hulk would look like the greatest comic ever at this size. Even though, as you've probably guessed from my ramblings, not all of this stuff has stuck in the memory completely, I do know that these were some of the best Xmas prezzies I ever got, and leagues ahead of the british annuals, as great as they were. Bring 'em back!


  1. ahh... those were the days, great big tabloids that you couldn't read comfortably but it didn't matter because they were BIG.
    You know these play right into my "Format fetish" :)
    I still remember getting the first Christmas one (Which I think was the second Marvel tabloid out, pre-dating Marvel Treasury edition #2 but I could be wrong and haven't checked the dates, they're stored in the one book case / unit in my house that will fit them and the cat makes a dive for them every time I open the door)
    Not a lot to add, which you haven't said Pete except that I Love that Gil Kane bag cover, they even coloured Goliath right which they never manage to do these days !

  2. Nice to see some new postings on your blog again.I loved the oversized D.C. and Marvel edition comics.They were a different and awesome way to view some of the best classic comics.The holiday editions were particularly fun to read.The Hulk vs. the Thing from the 60s was one of my favorites.Right up there with some of the other great battles and fights.The art from legends like Jack Kirby (the aforementioned story)and Wallace Wood doing the art for the epic Daredevil versus Sub-Mariner slobberknocker are fine examples of the joy of vintage comics reading.

  3. Of course "...that Gil Kane bag cover"
    Should have read Gil Kane back cover.
    (I think I need more ice.)

  4. >>Don't get me wrong, if Natasha Romanoff was real, I'd marry her,

    Same here, but only if she was the Colan/Everett or Colan/Palmer model.

    B Smith

  5. Fantastic post, Pete! Even after all these years I can still remember waking up on Christmas morning and reading that first Grab-Bag. What a great present!
    I can see what you're saying about the Black Widow, but that story, "...And To All A Good Night", is one of my favourites of the Bronze Age. Groovy dialogue from Roy Thomas and a beautiful vision of Natasha from Colan / Everett.

    I only owned the first 2 Grab-Bags, never saw no. 3. That snowball fight sounds a blast!

  6. Hey, Pete, welcome back. Hope the tech troubles are behind you. I enjoyed this post on Marvel's holiday tabloids. I was never a huge fan of the format as a kid because I had a hell of a time storing the tabloid-sized books. It's only been in recent years I've been picking them up, and, of course, today, they fill me with the requisite Bronze Age warmth. As for the stories you mentioned, I just reviewed that issue of Heroes for Hire myself. That's one goofy-ass Bronze Age comic; it's got a little of everything going on!


  7. I've still got these three along with most of the other Treasury Editions. Strange how they're still fun after all these years.